By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
I’ll admit to being a fan of old-fashioned books – yes, the dead-tree, paper, portable, no batteries required, hefty package of pages anyone from a hundred years ago, and possibly a hundred years from now, would be able to open up and decipher – and maybe even learn something from, possibly be reminded how to wonder about life and the crazy, swirling world around them.
2020 was a rough year for books. Along with everyone else, markets have shifted, technology has changed and customer preferences are nothing like what they were a year ago. Or five years ago. Or ever.
Thumbing through used books on a table or bookshelf in a local independent bookstore was one of my greatest pleasures – one few will know in the future.
Who reads books these days? And who handles and looks over books in a bookstore? And where does one even find a bookstore?
Believe it or not, we do have a few independent bookstores left. They are barely hanging on, but their loss would be a deep, dark, black hole in our, or any, community.
When a bookstore closes, it is not likely to be replaced, at least by another bookstore.
Those sprawling spaces, once filled with tales of terror, hope, desperation and survival are likely to be replaced with some kind of boutique shop or coffee destination.
Used bookstores are my favorite – and not just because of the prices. New bookstores focus on what will sell – primarily the best sellers. Used bookstores mostly offer what their customers have brought in to sell or trade – often collections gathered over a life-time and only parted with when the owner was in need, had moved or passed away.
Long out-of-print treasures can be found there.
And besides the books, sometimes odd notes, photos or receipts can be found there.
I love libraries, but they are largely too organized for me. I can find what I am looking for, but I don’t usually find that serendipitous surprise there. Maybe libraries should try an unexpected room where the theme is “I bet you never imagined you’d find this in a library!”
Bookstores, especially used bookstores, loom large in our legends and stories, from George Orwell’s 1984 to Sleepless in Seattle, to The Never-ending Story, to the more recent Dash & Lily (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1758589/) bookstores have been places of refuge, escape and restoration – even relationships.
As I mentioned, the 2020s have not been kind to the book industry or bookstores.
You’d think that 2020, a year of near total quarantine and isolation would be good for books.
Adults have had more time to read. Home schooling, or at least home-supplemented schooling has certainly shifted attitudes toward reading.
There was a time, not so long ago, when you might see someone in public, a park or bus perhaps, without shame, holding an actual book.
There was a time when literacy was valued, or at least noted.
Cable news and its corollaries have “dumbed us down” so far that we barely recognize an idea or coherent argument.
It wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t need to stay this way.
How many of us can even imagine reading a book where the words sit still, with no chirps or beeps or flashing lights?
Blogs, websites, podcasts and video channels come and go, but books, without cables, ports or dongles pass the test of time.
There’s something comforting, even inviting, about those quiet black marks on a white page.
If there was ever a living metaphor for how much Black and White humans need each other, could there ever be a more convincing one than the printed page?
But books, and bookstores, even literacy itself, all seem on the verge of any other cultural endangered species list.
Technology, from ebooks to games and smartphones have challenged the time, attention and budgets of potential readers.
There are fewer and fewer publishing houses. And perhaps fewer opportunities, not for writing, but for writing that pays writers and welcomes new voices.
And of course, there is Amazon, the “Everything store” where books are not the writer’s or bookseller’s dream, but just another commodity. Just another item to click and have delivered – not savored and held as the nearly sacred object that it once was, and may still be again.
Buying books, reading books, keeping books and giving books as gifts seem like remnants from another time.
Books are a peculiar product.
Books are specific, yet somehow universal.
A book may hold mysteries or wonders, surprising us with character reveals or plot twists.
And, as much as I love audiobooks, the printed page allows us to take the story at our own pace.
Reading, for far too many of us, is a lost art.
Maybe the many challenges of the year just past will guide us to renew, or newly appreciate the quiet, solid companionship of a good book.
And I’m not alone in my advocacy of good books, consider these words about books;
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury
“I have always imagined paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin
“Books were my pass to personal freedom.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” – Anna Quindlen
“Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.” – Roxane Gay
And, for something completely different, check out Jimmy Durante’s ditty about reading a book – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCQ0CUXjADQ
– Ask me how much time I spend reading books, the answer will always be “Never enough!” – Danielle Nease