Oct 24, 2011

Posted by in Articles, Books, Insights | 3 Comments

Imagining a Life Without Books

Imagining a Life Without Books

Last weekend, after dinner and a movie with my husband, I popped into my local Barnes & Noble bookstore to pick up a few books and magazines I’d been wanting to read. On our way there, my husband said something about how books weren’t going to exist for long because e-books are now completely changing the industry. We had a heated debate about it, wherein I argued loudly that this couldn’t possibly be right and felt personally affronted by his claim. It was unthinkable to me.

I ran into Barnes & Noble, trying to find everything I needed in 5 minutes, because my husband was waiting in the car outside. As I waited in line, I started to get annoyed by the college-aged woman in front of me taking her time, not buying anything, but bemoaning something the clerk had said. “Hurry, hurry…,” I thought to myself. “Why is this taking so long?!”

Imagine my shock when I realized what the young woman in front of me was so upset about: she had just been told that this huge Barnes & Noble, in the center of a well-traveled area of Washington, DC, that is always buzzing with people was going to be closing in the next few months.

As I stood there waiting, my mind was reeling over this impossible-seeming fact. How could this be happening? I had come to this bookstore since I was in college fifteen years ago. It is still the place I long to come when I need an escape. I do work there from time to time, I browse the shelves, sometimes I come in knowing exactly what I’m looking for… but however I end up there, I’m usually there at least once a week.

And now it will be no more. Maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if there were any other bookstores in close proximity. But there aren’t. There are bookstores, of course, in other areas of Washington, but in a five mile radius around my house, the two remaining bookstores (both of which were from big chains, not even small independent book stores) will now be no more (the other closed in the past year).

I really don’t know what to make of this. What will our children’s lives be without bookstores? I understand that e-books are still books, and that reading isn’t about to stop completely, but what will it mean that you can no longer go to a place to browse the shelves surrounded by other readers? What will it mean that reading will become completely solitary in a way that it wasn’t when you needed the help of other people to find the book in the first place?

I read recently that a child’s future intelligence could be predicted by the number of books their parents have in the house. This was interesting to me because the researchers found that just being around books had an effect on children. Knowing that their parents were reading these books somehow affected the children’s outcomes.

So what will it mean when a child doesn’t know that a parent is reading a book, because it simply looks like she or he is staring at the same screen on which she gets email, surfs the web, watches videos? What will it mean that even more time will be spent in front of screens? How will we read to children before bed– on an iPad?? It just doesn’t seem the same.

I love my iPad, iPhone, etc. I even tried reading books on them. It’s just not the same. I so enjoy the feeling of holding a book, of actually turning a physical page, of marking my favorite lines with a pencil, and making margin notes on the side, of being able to look at a book from the side and see where my book mark is, of being able to see the pages I marked to come back to, knowing just by looking at the book from its profile which mark I need to go back to.

I know that I’m starting to sound like the great-grandfather who remembers time before cars and constantly harps on how something has been lost by their invention, but I truly feel that the change that is coming isn’t entirely a good one. I wonder what it means for me, for my children, and for their children.

I want to be able to read my grandchildren real, paper books someday when they make their way to this Earth. Will I get that chance?

While we wait to see where this change in technology leads us, I will continue going to my favorite bookstore until it closes, I’ll search out others, and I’ll keep buying real paper books on Amazon.com. I just hope my kids are able to do the same.

I’ve loved reading since I was very young, and I have so hoped to pass that love on to my children. I hope that this change in our lifetime doesn’t make that more difficult.

  1. ebook will never replace early child’s books. A picture books is best in a BOOK. My daughter is a braille reader and technology is too expensive for a 7 year old So she still reads books in braille. (as she gets older she will read it in a e braille format but the technology costs over 5000 dollars) Are you going to hand a iPad. An ebook for a toddler and early reader is a different experience than a book. Its not equal. Real paper books are not going anywhere.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Penny! I agree that there’s no replacing picture books (although I think there’s no replacing regular books either!). I hope you’re right that real paper books aren’t going anywhere. I’m going to tell myself it’s true either way, because I really can’t imagine the world without them. :)

  3. Love this article as I feel the same way about how invaluable REAL books are. it’s why i have a hard time even thinking about giving old books away, even ones i haven’t picked up in ages or didn’t even like that much to begin with! and i have a special box in which i’m saving all my favorite children’s books; the memories i have of my parents reading them to me are some of my most precious. no matter what happens, i know i’ll have these books for my children and grandchildren and that’s some small solace. i, like you, will continue supporting local bookstores as often as i can. it’s a really important thing to do…for everyone.

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