The used book store in my town closed last week because the landlord raised the rent. At the last day half-price sale I picked up a Charles Dickens’ which seemed fitting in the soon-to-be orphaned space.
Books were off the shelves. Shelves off the walls. Unsold books were piled on makeshift plywood carts, no longer aligned in elegant alphabetical order. The staff offered cider and tried to be upbeat but I kind of felt like a fringe relative picking through the remains of the empty family home.
Too dramatic? Maybe. But how else can you react when a book store disappears? The used book store was a fixture on Main Street. A destination bookstore for fans from out of the area, a rainy day stop for locals and a fitting shelter for your own old books when it was their time to move on.
The staff said the old book business will be folded into another store in a nearby town but they hope to one day return. Yeah, we know what happens when a good old friend packs up.
Meanwhile, just around the corner the town library closed. For remodeling, said the sign. The librarians promise it will be more jumping than ever when it re-opens. The same library reduced its schedule last year. Regulars get nervous when a library cuts hours, thins staff and puts up a closed sign, if only for three months.
I’m not going to blame any of this on my friends who’ve gone over to the dark side. Kindles, Nooks and e-readers are clearly here to stay and I’ve tried to stop grousing about them, saving my curled lip for landlords who raise the rent in a recession.
Over Christmas I was in a bookstore line when the man behind me held up State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and asked if I knew the book. I said I was waiting for the paperback. He was buying it for his wife, he said, adding that she had breast cancer and loved women authors. Who else would I recommend? I said our book club is wild for Alice Munro. He excused himself and disappeared into the M section.
Ann Patchett has opened up her own independent book store in Nashville. She said she has no interest in living in a city without a bookstore. And who would?Although the used book emporium is gone from our town the independent bookstore with new books thankfully hangs in there.
Last winter in Truckee my daughter and granddaughter and I trudged through a mountain blizzard to a small book store, warm and smelling of hot chocolate. I found an Edith Wharton, my daughter a Bill Bryson and my granddaughter a picture book. Is there a comparable Kindle moment?
If everyone was to eventually give up hard copy books and go electronic our towns would lose their literary center. And what would become of the books themselves?
We have six bookcases in our small two bedroom house. When they fill up and we need to purge we take our books to the hospice thrift store. Or give them to the library for their book sale. Or take them to the late great used book store downtown.
Knowing your books will find a good new home makes it easier to give them up. It would be a sin to throw a book in the trash or put it into a recycling bin. To do so would surely call forth the ghosts of the greats. Emily Dickinson might haunt you, as well she should, and I imagine she can be pretty snappish.