I woke up this past Sunday morning to learn of another bookstore closing…some may call it a loss due to the global economy or even the free market at work. Hearing about the closing of La Hune in Paris (a friend tagged me in her Facebook post, so that I might read and comment on Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker article) brought to mind a sadness and concern that I had just felt recently no more than 1/2 mile from our house on Memorial Day weekend Long Lost Friends bookstore closed down after 20 years of serving the community.
In this two sentences there are a few key words that I would like to expound on why local bookstores are important: “Global Economy”, “Paris”, “Community”.
Some are inclined to think the free market is doing its share by choosing online retailers over brick and mortar operations. Customers see large brick and mortar chain bookstores struggling, Borders closed operations a few years ago and Barnes and Noble seems to have discount books, their editions, and what is the latest top sellers, beyond that you cannot find a book that does not fit in those categories; if you are looking for a hardback it is going to be in the new release section or something like the professional books, such as business and self-help. These large stores are no longer the visual future that we saw in the movie “You Got Mail.” Yet is Amazon.com really making a profit, and are books, printed or digital, carrying the load? Convenience within our “busy” lives may be the hidden driving force, along with a growth of individualism.
Online retailers are not overwhelming brick and mortar in books sales but it is the overhead that assists the online market. Long Lost Friends bookstore closed down the street from me and is going online to continue to sell their inventory until it is gone. What we currently find in a resurgence of coffee shops, thanks to Starbucks and the sitcom, “Friends”, is where community or socialization is happening over a cup of coffee with a few people reading. (I am currently in a Starbucks writing). Where do you go to learn about a book or books you should read, especially over these summer months…the latest blog? It is us choosing to be alone, at a coffee shop or in our home on our computers in our virtual worlds, that is more significant than the online bookstores. Why does every Barnes & Noble have a cafe, so you can come get a “cup of joe” and by the way look for a book…it is not the Global Economy that is the main drive in the slow death of independent bookstores but rather our inward narcissistic turning that moves us away from going to and hanging out in our bookstores, barbershops and other such places.
I am no French bookstore enthusiast but on my first visit to Paris and on my subsequent visits, I made sure to visit Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. And yes, I am such a bibliophile that when I watch movies that take place in Paris, I am looking through the background to see not only where I have been, but to see Shakespeare & Co. I did not look for nor see the bookstore in a movie before my first visit, but I read articles, essays, memoirs, and even novels whose author at made reference to Shakespeare & Co. It was my interest in James Joyce and then the Bloomsbury writers that peaked my interest of the place. I probably have seen a few movies only to see the bookstore and what books they had on the shelves, such as Before Sunset. Over the years I have visited cities and even towns to see what kind of independent bookstores they had, which opened the city or town to me. One person who is always open to talking is a bookstore clerk, especially in local stores. To gain a sense of what the community is like and even to learn more about what books to read, because the clerk is always a reader and will recommend a book or two based in your genre or author of preference. I did not visit La Hune or even try to visit a French library upon my visits there, but I think I do know a little more about Paris beyond the literature that I had previously read, including my Frommer’s guide from experience of being there and perusing of a local bookstore.
It is a community that keeps local businesses thriving. When I first entered Long Lost Friends, I saw a few pictures on the wall and certificates of schools and teachers thanking the store for their support of a particular school or class. What happens when the local diner, bookstore, or barbershop does not support a little league team. Actually, does little league still exist. With traveling hand picked teams chosen from a city of over 4 million, no wonder, we need to take 10 year olds around the state or across state lines to compete against equal competition. Even the the idea of a traveling team removes one from community and begins our focus on ourselves, it is exactly what we are teaching our children to think of themselves and make sure they are the with their level not with neighbors or friends from down the street. Local businesses are not the mainstay of 20th century America, and I am not advocating a return to your roots and hometown or suburb in which you were raised. It is our choice not to have a local bookstore and other such businesses. One of the tag lines to tell you teenager today as they walk out of the door with friends, is “make good choices”. So how about we use that same phrase in ourselves, make good choices, those for your family and community? When was the last time you had a bookstore find or order a book for you? It has been too long for me…now the closest local bookstore, not Half-Price, but Twice Told Tales about 5 miles from my house. Is it a treasure trove? No, but it is my local bookstore that I will visit and have my children purchase their own books.
I sometimes tell parents or undergraduate students that our current generation is reading more worldwide than in any other time in history. It is a true statement. Rather the reading is not exclusive to newspapers, magazines, and BOOKS, but all the reading we currently do, web surfing: blogs, ads, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, WhatApp! and texting. I will not lay out an argument but to say that newspapers and magazines are questionable reading today, you can imagine what my thoughts are concerning everything that is current in our reading. Facts: We are reading. We are engaging each other in social media, yet we are struggling to root ourselves, physically and psychologically. Post WWII, our grandparents could move and make themselves anywhere in the U.S., thus Americans were no longer rooted to their place of birth. The late 20th century we have had trouble with rooting ourselves with just one person, and today we cannot root ourselves interiorly and know who and what we are.
Think small, think local, build a relationship with someone whom you want to spend the rest of your life, have children, build friendships, ones that last with those who are struggling as you are…this is what Edmund Burke called a platoon. It is in our platoons that Civilization will not end. Good-bye, La Hune and Long Lost Friends…
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