Burning for Bookstores

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Everyone knows that.

You don’t touch Popeye’s spinach. Or swipe James Bond’s car. Or get scuff marks on Elvis’s blue suede shoes.

And if you’re a sensible human being who wants me to keep my (precarious) sanity, you don’t ever, ever mess around with my access to bookstores.

Trouble is, sensible people seem to be in short supply lately.

If you’re a book addict, too, you’ve seen the progression. First, the smaller bookstores got squeezed out, like the old City News on Main Street, where I worked my way through college. Then came the larger fish: Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Borders.

And now? Now the bell may be tolling on the mighty shark known as Barnes & Noble. After successfully savaging all its competition, the retail book chain has been cutting stores, cutting expenses on the Nook, and most recently cutting its list of owners, as Liberty Media decided to sell its stake and run.

It’s enough to make a person think of dinosaurs and meteors.

Instead, I think of wildfires.

No, I’m not suggesting we put all of Barnes & Noble to the torch. After all, bookstores are my natural habitat. I can disappear more thoroughly there than Bilbo Baggins with a magic ring, coming up only for meal times. Maybe.

There’s a smell to bookstores you can’t get anywhere else, of paper and dust and dreams. Maybe a few other things besides; my beloved City News wrapped popcorn and pipe tobacco into every scent.

Best of all, a good bookstore is a center for serendipity. Wander the shelves and you’ll meet at least one title you’ve never noticed before. (Come to think of it, I met my wife the same way.) Amazon’s recommendations may be near-prescient at times, but it still can’t match the shuffle-the-deck surprises you get from just one hastily glimpsed cover.

Old-fashioned? Sure.

Nostalgic? Undoubtedly.

Dead? Don’t bet on it yet.

This is where the wildfires come in.

Every Coloradan who’s survived the last couple of summers knows how a wildfire works in a forest. A lot of big trees get cleared out, some of them very old and very loved, that seemed like they’d stand forever.

And once the flames die down, there’s a space cleared. And new life can come to the undergrowth.

“I see room for smaller bookstores again,” one friend said on Facebook.

“Maybe this will allow the mom-n-pop local bookstores to come back,” another agreed. “That would be a good thing.”

It would indeed. And I see some of the spaces that could do it. Sellers who pay attention to the customer, who become crucial community gathering points, who don’t have the cumbersome supply chains and monstrous overheads of the world’s Bookzillas.

The chains seemed to offer every book in the world. But Amazon can do that, and do it cheaper.

The smaller ones offer you not just a book, but a home.

They’re out there. Heck, they’re out here. And they’re ready to write the next chapter.

Maybe I’m being unduly optimistic. Maybe the big chains clear-cut the bookstore landscape so that nothing’s left. But somehow I don’t think so. Book-lovers can survive this fire, every single one of us.

Even if it is a real Barnes-burner.

One Reply to “Burning for Bookstores”

  1. Wow, that’s hot.

    (Lunchtime madness turned into afternoon delight; and here you go…things I thought…things your “Burning for Bookstores” made me think today….so…. Saffy start over: )

    Wow, that’s hot.

    Makes me wonder how many pounds of books you’ve maybe read. How many pounds of books have I read? How many pounds of books does the average American read daily? Monthly? Yearly? I bet most Americans eat more pounds of sugar each year than the number of pounds of books they read each year. That’s leading to much mental (and physical) unfitness in this country.

    I think the solution for a healthier America is for us all to do some serious weightlifting. Of books. Physical books, lifted and read. If the pounds of books, physical books, we each lift and read outweigh the pounds of sugar we eat on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, year by year, then soon enough we’ll be revived, smart and healthy again.

    So yes, let the bookstores begin. Again. Walk to your local independently owned bookstore and do some weightlifting. For added bonus and quicker results, spend a few dollars and carry a few (books) back home. Then hide your TV remote—in the freezer if you must—and read them. For a break, plug in your iPod and get your groove on. Crank up that ol’ “Burn baby, burn. Disco Inferno” and move some grooves and get your heart rate up. Play the long version. Do some calisthenics or isometrics till it burns. And if grooving ain’t’ your thing, then plug the ear buds into your ears and take a brisk walk around the block. Then….back to the books! That’ll do some serious burning there, my friend.

    About books and weight, though, I recently was 24 pounds of books overweight. Tried to check them—books I’d brought, bought, picked up, looked up, been handed and otherwise collected, all tucked into my suitcase—through my check-in baggage on Frontier on my back home to Denver from Williamsburg, Virginia. The courteous Newport News Frontier Airlines courtesy clerk kindly told me my 24 extra pounds (of books) would cost me 78 dollars to travel in my suitcase, checked-in baggage. They would have to charge me $78 to haul my 24 pounds of books for me!

    So I quickly scrambled around and unloaded 26 pounds of books and carried them myself (with a little help from my children) in our carry-on luggage. Heavier load, but it cost less. Twenty-six pounds of books for free, if I’d do the work myself, plus I burned a few calories while at it.

    And that gives me an idea. What if the new book stores that are soon to be popping up all over the place in lieu of the big chain stores, you know, the ones like you mention in your column here, with the smell of popcorn, pipe tobacco, paper dust and dreams, in the writing of their new chapter, write in an exercise room adjacent to the reading room. Readers could enjoy a break and burn some calories dancing or exercising to some invigorating tunes. Exercise their minds and their bodies…a double duty get fit regime.

    Moral of my story: You gotta do your own weightlifting to get the benefits; you gotta do your own reading and walking and carrying to reap the rewards…it’s costly to let someone else do what you should be doing yourself.

    Price per pound I’d say books are really a sweet bargain. Sweeter than candy. Except maybe eye candy. So get busy and burn, baby burn! Barnes and Noble inferno… You could call it our big “chain reaction.” “One hundred stories high… Could be so entertaining….Satisfaction…came in a chain reaction…couldn’t get enough….Rising to the top….Everybody going strong…that’s when our spark got hot.”

    Do I hear somebody saying, “Burn, baby burn, Disco Inferno”? We gonna burn through those pages, burning knowledge into our brains, burning those muscles, building our minds, building our bodies, building our society. Mentally and physically fit.

    You can’t stop us now; you can’t stop us, no…because it’s Disco Inferno! Like you say, Scott, a real “Barnes-burner!” Turned “buns-burner,” too. Good ideas—they just happen. But you gotta make them happen. This could use a little more work, a little cleaning up, but I better get burnin’—before supper does. Because when it burns, it burns! And then it really burns…if you know what I mean : )

    Thanks for all the fun reads, Scott.

    Everybody fit, hut hut, read, read, burn burn…..

    Katherin Engelhard

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