I hope you will bear with me while I do a little shameless self-promotion.
For those of you who have made your way to the end of Issue Six of The Paperbook Collective, you may have already read my piece on the slow demise of the humble book store.
For those of you who haven’t had time yet to sit down with the latest issue, I would like to share my story with you in preparation for the first project I am tackling in 2014. I spoke briefly about it in my post about Reading My Christmas Tree and other 2014 challenges, and I received some excellent advice and links to follow up from some of my fellow bloggers.
The following piece will explain what it’s all about ~
I’ve always loved to read.
Even before I could read, I loved to read. When I was a toddler my favourite book in the world was my Little Golden Books copy of The Little Red Caboose. My parents would read it to me every night, probably several times over. I was a bossy child. They read it to me so often that I came to memorise the words, and would sit on the floor reciting it out loud while turning the pages at the correct time. Visitors to our house were amazed by the toddler who could apparently read. I was also a bit of a show-off.
Twenty-five years later, not a lot has changed. I am still at my happiest when I have my nose buried deep into a good book, oblivious of the world around me. I grew up in a household without mobile phones, without the Internet, almost without a computer. Our school projects were completed with the aid of a leather bound set of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s, bought by my parents the year I was born from a travelling salesman. They probably never guessed that their set of Britannica’s would become one of my most precious possessions.
Perhaps because of my upbringing, and the deep seated love I have for physical books, I cannot bring myself to fully embrace the digital literary takeover. Download a copy of a book online, only to delete it once you’re done? No thanks. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that there are many circumstances in which an E-Reader is far superior to the humble book. I just haven’t found any of those circumstances in my life. Going travelling? I seek out second hand bookstores in each town I pass through, swapping the books I have finished for something new. No space? Often I find books discarded in hotels and backpackers, which I take with me and then leave behind in a new room for some other weary traveller to find. I love the thought of these books making their own little trips across countries.
Everywhere I go, I seek out bookstores. New or second-hand, there is no shopping experience greater than slowly drifting through shelves laden with literature, dipping in and out of books at random until something incredible catches your eye. I never enter a bookstore with a particular book in mind, rather I wait and see what that bookstore will deliver just for me. The smell, the hushed quiet, the endless spines standing in rows, waiting to be plucked from the shelf. You don’t get that experience on your Kindle.
Which is why I am so devastated by the fact that two bookstores have closed down in my small city in the last six months. The first to go was the Book Exchange, a tiny second-hand bookstore on the main street. I ventured in during the weeks before they closed and managed to buy eleven books, including a hard-cover edition of Bryce Courtenay’s Four Fires, for twenty dollars. My bounty didn’t quite make up for the sadness I felt at seeing all these empty shelves, with a couple of lonely books lying on their sides looking for all the world like abandoned children. I went back to see what was left a week later… the shop was gone. It was as though it never existed.
Just before Christmas I headed into town to pick myself up a few books as a little early Christmas present. I rounded the corner of the Boulevard Bookshop ABC Centre, only to see a huge CLOSING DOWN SALE in their window as well. Shocked, I walked in to be greeted by another room full of empty shelves, with a few small piles of books and gifts in spaces that had once been packed with colourful displays. The excellent quality of books that were left indicated how great this bookstore once was, so I grabbed myself a handful and headed to the counter. I asked the lady why they were closing, to be told the familiar story that they just couldn’t afford to keep a dying business open anymore. In a city with a greater population of approximately 68, 000 people, we couldn’t even support two local bookstores. She went on to tell me that thirteen independent bookstores had closed in Western Australia in 2013 alone.
Where will this end? Where will all the books go? Even if hypothetically every single publishing house stopped printing books today, there are still billions upon billions of books out there in the world. Hell, there’s billions of books in my lounge room alone. But where will I be able to donate them once the second-hand bookstores are all gone? How will any of us be able to get our hands on cheap and cheerful second-hand copies of books we love if we refuse to support our local bookstores? Will my grandchildren pull an ancient copy of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath off my overloaded, dusty old bookshelf and ask me, ‘What’s this funny looking thing Grandma?’
No. I refuse to let this happen. And if there is one thing I have learnt in the past few years, it’s that if you want something done, do it yourself. So that’s what I am going to do. Stay tuned Bunbury, you won’t be without a place to get your second hand books for much longer.
And for all of you out there reading this, I have one thing to say to you.
Support your local bookstores. No one else is going to.
So I have jumped off the deep end, bitten the bullet and other such clichés.
I am starting up my very own book exchange.
Fingers crossed for success.