The notion of the moment is that brick and mortar bookstores and paper books are headed the way of the dodo and that within a short time – ten, maybe fifteen years – the only option avid readers will have will be the Kindles and the iPads of that new era. That technology is so easily taking the place of paper and soon there will be no need for these antiquated methods of getting information.
There is no denying that there has been, and will continue to be, a shift in the way people are getting their information and entertainment. But there are also some other undeniable truths regarding books and bookstores that won’t necessarily be, individually, the saving graces of the paper book industry but they should, as a whole, be enough to keep them alive for another couple of decades, anyway.
Sharing. Book lovers love to share their books. There is a bit of a tradition in the book world that the greatest gift one book lover can give to another is a copy (or their own copy, that’s even more special) of their favorite book. Of course that is sometimes easier said than done when your favorite book is always the one you just finished reading but I digress. The point is while it is possible to share e-books, it lacks a lot of the meaning to email your friend an Amazon gift card or connect your iPad to their iPad and transfer files. You miss out on the moment of joy when the recipient sees the cover, flips it over to read the blurb, shuffles through the pages before returning to the real world long enough to thank you because as fellow book lovers, you both realize the immense magic of what your friend has just been given.
Annotations. Something else that is possible on some (but not all) of the e-reader devices but just isn’t nearly as effective as it is in a paper book is notations and annotations. Writing in the margins, highlighting important or favorite passages. Studies upon studies have compared the differences in cognitive benefits between writing with pen and paper and typing. Essentially, typing is a passive activity, while handwriting is more of an active one. Writing by hand, among other things, stimulates a part of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) which in turn stimulates the rest of the brain, telling it it is time to sit up and take notice of what is happening. Typing does not provide the same level of stimulus to the RAS.
Also, just consider the amount of time needed to find your stylus or switch to keyboard mode on your e-reader, in order to make annotations compared to grabbing your pen (which is readily available if you are one to annotate as you read) and make notes in a book. It may be seconds saved but if you are making several notes per page (let’s say you are e-reading a college text book), those seconds will start to add up. And there is no risk of “forgetting to save” your notes in a paper book. Once they are written, they are saved until you make the physical effort to erase them (or spill coffee on them; even then they just get smudgey).
Community. One absolute truth that has been truth since people started writing down their stories is that people want to talk about a great book. Aside from being a visual display of all the great books you could be reading, a brick and mortar bookstore serves as a community house for avid readers, a place to congregate and host a book club meeting or take a class.
And often times bookstores created a feeling of camaraderie where there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet. Stepping through the doors of a bookstore makes it suddenly acceptable to talk to strangers – to offer your unsolicited opinions, advice and experiences or to have a full blown conversation with someone you may never see again. How many times have you seen someone reading the jacket blurb of a book you adored and felt like you couldn’t walk away without telling them all the reasons they will be happy with this purchase? There is a “user reviews” section of Amazon, iBookstore, barnesandnoble.com, whichever you prefer but that is someone’s edited, make-sure-I-say-everything-just-right, thought out opinion, not the candidly overjoyed response you’d get from being seen contemplating over their favorite work.
These aspects of the brick and mortar bookstore experience are the things that will keep avid, true, in the blood booklovers faithful for years to come. The most important thing to do right now is go to a bookstore, be it a major chain or a local mom-and-pop place, and buy a book for a child. Your child, your neighbor’s child, a niece or nephew, an anonymous donation to an elementary school. The responsibility of keeping real paper books alive will soon be on their shoulders.