What we’re losing

The last post I wrote in this space made reference to a bookstore that’s closing soon. Bookstores have been disappearing for many years, with the recent liquidation of the Borders chain the most shocking example. The internet is changing the world, with iPads and Kindles and even smartphones filling in the void between our reading habits and the need to lug around hundreds of bound sheets of paper.

The bookstore in question, Bookman’s Alley in Evanston, Illinois, is a long way from a Borders, though. I had never been to it before last week, in part because the “Alley” part of the name was very appropriate. If you didn’t know where the shop was, you wouldn’t be able to find it. And that was probably just fine with the people who were in the know about it.

I took the picture above to remind myself of what the store looks like on the inside. No one picture could do it justice, though. I wished I had spent even an afternoon in there before. It feels more like a study than a bookstore, although commerce was the reason it existed, in the first place. The price of their books is more than what a place like Amazon would charge for the same book, and this isn’t the place to go for the latest John Grisham novel, either.

It’s unfortunate that a place like this, which feels just the way you might want a bookstore to feel, is shutting down soon. I’m happy that it existed for as long as it did, and I realize there won’t be another one like it after it’s gone. The tradeoffs for using ereaders is that printed books, like the ones I saw in Bookman’s Alley, are becoming more and more scarce. When children start using tablets in school–as they are in some places already–we’ll soon have two or three generations who remember what books are, and we’ll  be dying off every day.

The world will always need books. But they may become a curiosity some day, instead of a central  part of our lives. I regret this, but the forces of change in the world–driven by price and convenience–existed well before books ever came along. There’s no reason to believe that ink on paper trumps change over time.

So farewell to Bookman’s Alley, and–to a lesser extent–to the part of our culture that it once served. We’ll always be readers in some form or fashion, but the content we consume won’t always be in the form of books on a shelf (and if you doubt that, just consider how you’re reading this post).  Words on a screen is dramatically pushing this aside, and all we can do about this now is embrace it, whether we like it or not.

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