Running an errand down on Hawthorne yesterday, we walked by a bookstore (Murder by the Book) that we’d never been in. It had a cart full of $1 mystery novels set by the door to lure in passers-by, and it worked.
“I just want to run in here and see if they have any Minette Walters,” I said. Ken, well-accustomed to this form of self-deception, merely waved me in the door. The shop was bigger than I expected from the street, and specialized in mystery novels. There were cute sub-genre signs all around, “Wild Women”, “Nancy Drew for All Ages”, “The Great Detective”–signs that hint what you might find, and invite you to explore further.
I found a whole run of Walters’ books up right up front and excitedly started pulling out titles. The woman at the counter, who I took to be the owner, commented on how much she enjoys Walters and gave recommendations. Then Ken reminded me he’d just heard a story about a Swedish married couple who wrote a classic detective series in the 1960s-70s. What were their names, again? “Maj…something. And her husband was Per…somebody,” I was dredging through my memory banks. “Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo? Right over here!” Barbara exclaimed, leading the way past a Steig Larsson display. (Looking up pictures of the store, I found Barbara’s name and confirmation she is the owner.) Sure enough, they were stocking the entire run starring Martin Beck. I asked for the first in the series and said if I liked it, I’d be back for more. All told, we left the store with a short stack of 4 novels, leaving $27 in the hands of an independent book dealer. And we will be back to explore those intriguing genres, to expand collections, to locate rare items, and most importantly, to talk books with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic bookseller (remember those?)
All of which leads me to my prediction. As you know, I’ve been doing a lot of my reading in eBook format since I got the iPad, and I really do love the convenience of it. However, printed books aren’t going to go away–not for me, and not for the world at large. The technology of the printed book is too good, too useful, too lasting to ever be abandoned. You can’t set a cart full of eBooks on a sidewalk to lure people into your shop, and the thing is: people WANT to be lured. People want a compact handful of story they can toss in a bag or take into the bath. People love to walk away from a shop or a library or a garage sale with a sack full of cheap paperbacks to indulge in. Don’t fear the eReader: it’s here to supplement and enhance the book experience, not replace it.
And if I’m wrong, booklovers, there’s a silver lining to the twilight of the tomes: just imagine the fantastic sales everywhere as libraries and bookstores clear out their stock. You’ll be able to buy a lifetime’s supply of books at a penny a pound. But you’ll have to get in line behind me.