Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hello again to books, and a sad farewell to book stores

I've spent, over my adult life, probably the equivalent of an entire year browsing in book stores. This is after I made enough money not to hang out in libraries. My wife has a broad range of browsing destinations, but she always knew where to find me... at the nearest book store. For twenty years we've budgeted at least fifty dollars a month for books. Book store gift certificates have long been welcome birthday and holiday gifts, and eagerly spent. I've been a member of the Seminary Coop book store in Chicago for many years: they sent me dozens of books seamail (remember that?) when we lived in Kyoto, Japan. I'm a great fan of Kramers Books in DC, and will spend a good part of any day in Portland, OR at Powells World of Books. I write books.

Suddenly, this week. I feel like a bookstore quisling; like I'm in foreign territory out for no good. And there is one simple reason for this: my iPad.  I have several eBook readers on my new iPad, and a few dozen titles, and I'm thinking I might never buy another block of celulose again. I'm reading at least as much as before, only my transactions are all online. I went browsing today downtown, and found a few titles I might have purchased on the spot. Except now, the only spot that matters is the one on the Amazon, or Apple, or other ebook seller site.  Oh, I'll certainly succumb to that great new photography or occasional architecture book, simply because the print resolution is satisfying. But when I wander into my local book store, my wallet mostly stays firmly in my pocket.

This scares me, since I figure if I'm not buying books, given my history and love for the product, then who will? Or should I simply step up a bit to look at the big picture, and figure that book stores are the modern equivalent of telegraph offices or stagecoach corrals. My son is in grad school, reading more books than he ever figured he might, but his son or daughter might need to be told of the days when reading materials were sold in stores as books. My latest novel has been much more successful as an eBook than a paperback. And my next novel might not ever see an ink and paper incarnation. A moment of sadness is a small indulgence here. My wife will still know where to find me: at the nearest coffee shop with wifi, downloading another book.