Monday, 7 March 2011

Bookstores ...

In order to prove to ourselves that we have a life, J and I went to the movies last night - the King's Speech - and pretty damn good it was too.

Now we went to see it at the Dendy, a multiplex in the Canberra Centre, which is a massive mall in the centre of the city, because (a) parking's easy and (b) we thought we might go for a drink or some food afterwards. We of course arrived a little too early for the movie, leaving us with twenty or so minutes to kill, and for all of its glitz, the Canberra Centre is pretty well all closed at 6pm on a Sunday evening.

However Borders was still open.

One of the tropes of this blog is that bookstores are dying killed by ebooks and online sales. And that's undoubtedly true. Borders (which in Australia is a franchise operated by A&R), is in administration with the rest of A&R, and Borders in the states has filed for chapter 11.

So in we walked, past the various legal notices about being in administration, what was going to happen about giftcards, through the display of ereaders - which struck me as a bit like Christmas turkeys hosting a display of kitchen equipment, into the store. Our ostensible reason was to look at the travel books - we've an upcoming trip to Thailand - but actually it was to go and surf the books.

And it was an enjoyable twenty minutes - definitely bookshop porn - we looked at art books on Bhuddist sculpture, books about cats and even a book about soup. And it reminded me that bookshops are not just about buying books, but also about the pleasure of happenstance while surfing the shelves and finding an interesting and unexpected book or a new author, or just something different.

Now bookshops do have a problem with the rise of mail order and ebooks, and the fact that increasingly kids don't read - after all who wants to read Chekhov, Tolstoy or Thucydides when you've got Facebook and YouTube? Instant gratification always tops long books by men with beards, but our little surf did remind me of the sheer sensuousness of books.

Borders, of course, made book buying enjoyable by allowing people to browse, sofas on which to read before deciding to buy and a cafe for literary types to meet and chat. And of course this was exploited by people who just wanted a coffee and to use the free wi-fi, or indeed as I admit to doing, finding an interesting book, photographing its cover, and buying online.

Perhaps there is a third way, where bookstore promote themselves as social focii for booklovers and to encourage people to come and surf the shelves as well as to meet and interact. Bookstores are culturally important for the sheer happenstance of browsing - something that you simply don't get online. For exaple Amazon's recommendations are often interesting, but are based on both your buying history and what people with similar interests bought. Which means if you're interested in the anglosaxon period you might happen across an interesting new book on the topic, or if you have a secret addiction to Lindsey Davis novels get a new author of similar books suggested, but you'd almost certainly never get a book on soup or literary quotes about cats recommended to you.

So, help support you local bookstore - if you enjoy visiting it, go buy a book from it - because, as I've just realised, you'll definitely miss it when it's gone ...

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