I’ve been reading a lot lately about how e-books are totally changing the world of reading, forcing bookstores out of business, panicking print publishers, and leaving authors confused about where to get their books published. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times urges readers to visit literary sites in New York City before they disappear. The article discusses bookstores in particular, which have been struggling for quite while, first with the rise of giant chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders (which recently bit the dust itself), then with Amazon and Internet book sales, and now with electronic books. For example, there used to be forty-some bookstores on Book Row along Fourth Avenue in New York, a book-lover’s nirvana.
I wish I could have seen that, wandered the stacks, and talked with the owners who I imagine as eccentric, bespectacled, and just oozing knowledge about authors and what to read next. I would have been a loyal patron. The Strand bookstore is the lone survivor of Book Row, and had moved to 12th and Broadway. Take a look at their video. The Strand and most other bookstores seek to do things not available in the online world such as events with authors (live and in-person!), children’s activities, and other activities that make them unique. A post on literarymanhatten.org sites the example of “another independent bookstore making the most the downfall of corporate chains. Housing Works Bookstore Café. Part Bookstore, part café, part thrift shop and part HIV/AIDS outreach program. “Housing Works,” they say, “understands the value that creating a community can give to a bookstore.”
Birchbark Books in Minneapolis offers all sorts of community-building book/author/dinner events and the store has a special focus on Native American literature and concerns. They’re hosting screenings of “H2Oil,” an acclaimed documentary film about the devastating effects of the Alberta Tar Sands. Marty Cobenais from the Indigenous Environmental Network will speak about the campaign to stop tar sands pipelines in the United States. Bookstore owner Louise Erdrich will be giving an introduction. Another example, with a more light-hearted focus is Beauty and the Book in Jefferson, Texas, the world’s only combined beauty salon and bookstore. It’s owner, Kathy Patrick, has turned turned the love and books and book clubs into an international pursuit with the many chapters of her Pulpwood Queens Book club.
Whatever huge upheavals the book business encounters, one thing won’t change—the places (real and fictional) that literature evokes. For adventurous lit-lovers, there’s nothing like visiting the places they’ve seen in their imaginations—the London of Dickens’ characters for example, the Stockholm of Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or the wide open Texas spaces of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, to name just a few. And, I maintain there’s no better way to gain a sense of a place before you travel there than to read about it. I enjoyed seeing at good example of how reading amps up the anticipation of a trip, too, in a blog post about an upcoming trip to Spain on The Orange Barrow that features the blogger’s reading list.
So, next time I’m in New York I’ll walk by Tiffany’s with Holly Golightly, through Washington Square with Henry James or through Harlem with Langston Hughes, and rest assured that there are locales of classic literature won’t soon disappear.