I am a fan of Goodreads, which is a social media reading website that allows members to list and review the books they have read. Anyway, I was reviewing my Goodreads list of books I have read since I left bookselling. Since September 2010, I have read thirty-six books. It’s not amazing, but it’s not bad, either. Especially considering that when I was selling books, I was never reading them.
The book industry is changing. Change is inevitable. Of course, people are moving toward more short-form reading, as Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, said in Newsweek two years ago. We are a busy society digesting our information in nuggets that are quick and easy-to-understand. And of course, everyone wants the latest shiny digital gadget, so why shouldn’t they want a Kindle or a nook? Or, for that matter, why shouldn’t people want to read on their smartphone?
To say that reading is dead is premature. But I will go so far as to say that, when I worked for a big box bookstore that shall remain nameless, reading was dead to me. For me, putting the book in the customer’s hand was about getting a sale, not about passing on the love of reading. No customer could leave my store without buying something, even if that something was a plastic gift card or a biscotti. And if they decided to become a Member of my espresso-loving, money-sucking cult, then I was even happier. Well, depending on how you define happier. I was doing the job. I was pleasing my superiors.
I felt emotional pain when I saw the large number of books leaving our store, and making way for plastic e-readers and Bananagrams. The irony of the situation is that I was grieving for the books that I no longer read. Oh, I would pick up the latest business book, so that I could figure out how to squeeze one more drop of productivity from myself, or how to motivate and manipulate my beloved minions. I did not read, however, for the purpose of getting lost in a story, of getting transported to another place or time, of thinking about ideas that were larger than myself. When I read, I read to feed the machine. I didn’t read for the love of literature.
When I left retail and started writing, I ripped down a dam that had been holding back a tidal wave of creativity. Since I left big box retail, I have written three novels, seven short stories, and countless journal pages. I have launched this infant blog, and I am planning to write another novel next month for National Novel Writing Month. In addition to writing, I have read thirty-six books, from the cancer biography The Emperor of Maladies to a novel I recently enjoyed called Skippy Dies.
The purpose of this tale is not to state that big box bookstores are evil, and that they intend to subvert reading. However, I will say that the management culture was built around feeding the money machine, and about driving numbers instead of literacy. If anyone benefits from the demise of Borders, I hope the beneficiaries are the independent bookstores, the R.J. Julias and The Hickory Stick Bookshops of the world. I hope that readers will reward the places that still love books, and not the large, business-driven Pac-Men that just want to gobble up their dollar.
Of course, independent bookstores are out to make dollars, too. No one who gets on the speeding interstate of American commerce is pure. For me, going into a shop, which was opened by someone with a dream of having his or her own bookstore, rings truer than going into a green and brown copy and paste behemoth. On the other hand, as long as the booksellers who work for that behemoth don’t morph into The Bookseller Who Doesn’t Read, then even that corporate monstrosity will still have a vital, beating heart.