I recently met Katielase in the British Library gift shop. In one hour, we exchanged perhaps eight words with each other. Occassionally we would catch sight of each other and wave the nearest book above our heads, in hysterical excitement. We lost each other a few times.
Many of us harbour a deep-set love of bookshops and libraries. But we eschew them because ordering on line is easier. One click, and you’re done. We forget what it’s like to wander aisles, to speak in hushed whispers, to pick up book after book just because we can.
Katielase argues the case passionately. Of course she does:
I don’t usually set resolutions, of course I have goals in my life, things I would like to do and achieve, but I rarely make concrete resolutions come New Year’s. This year was different. I made just one resolution this year: I will buy no books online for the entire duration of 2013. Every single book I buy will be from an actual real-life bookshop. I will rejoin my local library, and actually use it. I will endeavour to shop in independent bookshops as well as Waterstones. I will not download any more eBooks to the Kindle app on my iPhone. I will cancel my Amazon pre-orders, set reminders in my calendar and go down to the shops on release day to buy the books I cannot wait for (that’s you, Divergent Book 3, I am coming for you).
I’m frightened for bookshops, you see. At the end of 2012, the entertainment chain HMV called in the administrators. I don’t think anyone was hugely shocked; this had been coming for a long time. The switch from CDs to mp3s, the advent of on demand services like NetFlix and LoveFilm, the huge rise of online retailers like Amazon and Play, with lower overheads allowing them to undercut the high street at every turn. We’re moving into a digital age, and HMV couldn’t keep up.
I’m not a big music person, I’ve never spent my money on cassettes or CDs and I still don’t spend it on iTunes. But I can see parallels with the book industry now. How many of you reading this have a Kindle? I would bet at least 50%, and I know this may sound over-dramatic but just typing that made me catch my breath.
I realised that even though I don’t, and if I can help it never ever will, own a Kindle, I am still part of the problem. Amazon One-Click ordering has become my friend. I think of a book, I tap my phone screen once and it’s on the way to me. Every time I do that, I support an online retailer and I don’t support a high-street or independent bookshop. I have been tempted by convenience. And I’m missing out.
In January 2013 I went to my local Waterstones, and it was simply glorious. I wandered around the shop, touching the spines of books, and shivering. I imagined the worlds contained within those pages, the stories, the adventures, the love and heartbreak and pain, the facts and figures, the recipes, the countries, the beauty, the analysis, and the magic. I chose three books, and as I approached the counter I stopped, my toes scrunched up in my shoes, my eyes closed, my arms around my choices and I… bounced. There’s no other word for it. I was so excited by my books, by the experience of choosing, by the purchase of them, I literally bounced up and down 3 as I approached the counter. My husband gave me that “my wife is WEIRD but adorable” look. Luckily the sales person was a fellow book lover who felt that a bookshop is a most reasonable place to get carried away with excitement, and agreed not to judge me for the slightly odd book-hugging and bouncing.
The thing is, I loved that experience; it’s an experience I want my children to have, and their children too. And I also want them to be able to find tucked-away independent bookshops, the magical ones with twists and turns, and stories and facts and myths and legends at every step of the way, just quivering beneath the covers, waiting to be discovered. I want them to feel the thrill of opening the cover of a book for the first time, or the 500th time, the smell of the pages, the feel of them. I can’t bear the idea that one day it might all be gone.
I refuse to lose that magic without a fight.
I know I’m just one book-obsessed loon, and my resolution won’t change the world, but me and my husband, we do buy and read a lot of books. In fact I worked out a rough calculation of what I we bought in 2012, and it was over 80 books in one year. Might have been more, it’s possible I’ve convinced myself I bought less than I did in a bid to salve my conscience and the screams of my bank balance. That’s 80 times we probably didn’t walk to a bookshop and fight for the magic we both love.
I understand a lot of you have Kindles, I understand that it’s easier, eBooks are more convenient, more immediate, easier for travelling or commute, and they save of storage space (she says, typing from a house which likely holds more books than it does grains of rice). I understand all this, but I do believe that real books are special. I hope that most of you agree, so please, try not to abandon bookshops altogether. Next time you need to buy a present for someone, walk to your local bookshop, browse the shelves, ask for advice, be there, feel the magic. A lot of people tell me they think that despite the advent of eBooks, real books won’t fade away. I hope very much that this is true, I hope that enough people still love real books to make them worthwhile printing, but most people who tell me they believe in books don’t use bookshops regularly themselves anymore. Indeed, I didn’t last year. Can we be sure that books will survive? Who are we relying on to save the bookshops? Well from now on, I’ve decided to do my bit.