I love the feel of a book in my hands. I’m sure any other avid reader can relate to that. There’s something significant about the weight of a book, being able to turn the pages, or because (for many of us) we’ve been holding books in our hands since we learned how to read. Needless to say, I enjoy any time spent in a bookstore. Instead of being able to hold just one in my hands, I have access to pick up and flip through a selection of thousands of them. But unfortunately, it’s becoming evident that bookstores and the various books inside them are starting to lose their appeal to a growing number of people.
I found out today that one of my favorite bookstore locations will be closing. I was expecting that this particular store might be chosen, given the financial struggles its company has been going through, but I was hoping this location would be able to stay. As melodramatic as it may sound, I actually have distinct memories of going into that particular store. I’ve been in there by myself many times — leisurely browsing through aisles, or I’ve gone in with a friend where we’d sit across from each other reading magazines.
There are differing reasons why bookstores and the actual books themselves are struggling to maintain importance because, as some would argue, both are becoming obsolete. Given the rapidly increasing popularity of e-books and their less expensive price tags, it’s unsurprising that book sales (particularly hardcovers) are being lapsed by the purchase of e-books.
I understand the appeal of new e-reading devices. I have a few e-books myself and I admit that being able to have hundreds of books all in one convenient device is very impressive. Oddly enough, I would still choose lugging around my large plastic totes of books when I move from place to place rather than compacting all of them into one electronic tablet. Besides, what would I put on my bookshelves if all of my favorites were converted to electronic files?
The reason why I’ve wanted to keep books through the years is because many of them hold memories for me. It’s hard to let that kind of attachment go. Some of the books I read as a kid still have my name in them – written in that large awkward handwriting we all used to have. Some also have my older brother’s name inside the front cover. My copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss was given to me by a teacher. I had my tote of childhood books out recently and noticed the pages of my Boxcar Children series have become yellow, but I remember when they were still crisp and white. My copy of Charlotte’s Web is looking pretty dated too.
The books I’ve bought in recent years still have white pages, but eventually, they’ll start looking aged as well. This new set I’ve collected includes books that have distracted me during life’s difficult times, and they’re the ones I’ve stayed up until 3:00 in the morning to read in order to get through a few more chapters. These newer books have introduced me to inspiring ideas, and I can remember where and at what point in my life I had that particular novel in my hands. I don’t do this too often, but I know others who underline favorite lines or write notes in the margins. If an e-book has that kind of feature, I haven’t found it yet.
If someone has an e-book in his hands, I wouldn’t be able to know which novel that person’s reading unless I take the initiative to ask. With a physical book, however, those of us that feel curious as to what someone’s reading can simply look at the cover and find out. We may not know the individual, but we can have a small idea of what he or she is like based on what book has captured that person’s attention.
I believe that e-books and the devices that contain them are important in their own way. It’s a technological convenience that we haven’t had before. They’re great when you’re stuck somewhere and need to pass the time, as was my case when reading an e-copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells a few weeks ago while waiting for my car to be repaired. E-books are great for people who can’t get to a bookstore right away, but instead can have an entire novel to read with a few finger taps. However, even given those benefits, my preference still stands for its physical counterpart.
With a tangible book, you can hold onto it and say, “This is the book I read on that trip” or “This is the book an author signed for me.” You can pull out one from years ago and think, “This is the book my mom gave me” and “I remember reading this one in the second grade.” When it comes down to it, you can select any you’ve decided to keep and think, “This is a book that represents a memory and an electronic file can never replace that.”