Count me among the legions who are fully on board thee-reader bandwagon. I have Kindle apps for both my iPhone and iPad, and I’m seriously considering buying a Nook. I also have an Audible subscription from which I download at least two audio books per month.
But I still have a special place in my heart for the printed page. As a writer, books are the lifeblood of what I do. I love everything about them: the ever-so-slight cracking of the spine when its first opened, the plot summary on the inside flap of the dust jacket, the sharp edge of the page as it’s turned, the thump that comes from the book being closed for the last time, and the sigh of satisfaction that follows. When it comes to creating a full sensory experience, no other form of entertainment can do what a book can.
I try to make it to Barnes and Noble as often as possible to sneak a peek at the new releases or raid the bargain bins for a diamond in the James Patterson/ Dean Koontz rough. But I’ve found more and more that the experience is not what it used to be. Aside from the Nook kiosk that dominates the entire center section of the store, it seems that an increasing amount of shelf space is being occupied by things other than books: board games, infant toys, and every variety of fountain pen one can possibly imagine. And the coffee station that once only served up mugs of coffee or cappuccino now offers exquisitely fattening breakfast burritos, iced mocha drinks, and lines that often stretch deep into the Health & Sexuality section.
What was once a place to go to quietly skim a few books has now become something akin to Epcot. The only thing missing is a giant Nook-shaped mascot to hand out balloon animals to the kids.
Fortunately, there is an alternative – and in my opinion a damn fine one. Despite the omnipresence of the behemoth chains, used book stores continue to exist and thrive in cities across the country. Often, these stores are mom and pop operations that have served their neighborhood for decades. For those of us who love books, the advantage of these stores over the large chains is obvious: the ability to find a long out-of-print hardcover that often costs little more than a trade paperback, knowledgeable staff, a comfortable, quiet, intimate environment for doing as much skimming as your
heart desires, and most importantly, no barista, children’s toy, or balloon animal to be found anywhere.
And as far as the ‘book’ experience goes, you won’t find a better place to actually experience it. Used books have history; they have character. From the frayed edges of a decade-old hardcover, to the spine of a paperback so worn from use that the title displayed on it is barely legible, to the previously underlined passages and turned down pages. The book’s journey, as well as all of the attention and care that went along with that journey, are fully evident.
Used books smell better, feel better, and read better. They’re comfortable in your hand – broken in like the perfect baseball mitt. And when you open one up – whether its two years old or two decades old – you are witness to that book’s power to endure. Through torn pages and coffee rings and smudged text, the story is still there, and it will always be; long after the breakfast burritos have been consumed, and the fountain pens have dried up, and the Nook is no longer en vogue.
The story lives forever. Let’s hope the used book store does as well.