Nov 292011
 
Authors: Matt Miller

I once saw the scroll on which Jack Kerouac wrote “On The Road.” I saw it at the Denver bookstore Tattered Cover.

As a little kid, I loved a series about young Merlin. An author named T.A. Barron wrote the books, and my Mom took me to a signing of his –– also at Tattered Cover.

I have spent most of my life reading, and for every memory I have with a book there is a bookstore.

Whether it be a book signing, browsing through shelves of titles or talking with another reader or store employee, I was always at home in a bookstore.

But on Amazon.com or the store on your e-reader, the Tattered Cover or any other independent bookstore is replaced with browsing a cold list of book titles along with thumbnail pictures.

The friendly employees have been replaced with web coding. The three-story building full of shelves and couches is a warehouse in some unknown desert. The authors are nowhere to be found, and the reading community is just a chat room.

On Black Friday, the Kindle Fire was Amazon’s top selling item, selling four times the amount of any other Kindle. This year the Kindle and other e-readers once again will be the must have Christmas gift.

So as the number of adults who own an e-reader grows past its current 12 percent, where does the independent bookstore fit into the future of our reading culture?

Susie Wilmer, who co-owns the Old Town Fort Collins independent bookstore, Old Firehouse Books said with the rise of digital book sales her business has taken a significant hit.

“We have lost a whole segment of customers,” she said, the first being women who read romance novels.

But even in the face of the bankruptcy of the mega bookstore Borders, and of surging digital sales, stores like Old Firehouse can survive by offering an experience to readers that is much more personal than a warehouse full of books.

“We get together people who write and love to read,” Wilmer said. “Those are physical and need to be physical.”

Old Firehouse is a place to go for more than just shopping. The store brings in authors, organizes book clubs, hosts art shows and hopes to have a literary festival next year. They also partner with local libraries and schools.

This description of the future of Old Firehouse Books reflects everything I loved growing up in bookstores and everything I love about reading.

Could an Amazon warehouse thousands of miles away ever do the same thing?

“What we offer is something different and become a community place,” said Salesperson and Old Firehouse Event Coordinator, Tegan Hollen. “We’re breaking the mold of what bookstores were traditionally thought of.”

Hollen and Wilmer said it’s this niche that independent bookstores are working to fill in a digital age. They provide a spot for the readers and writers of the community to interact –– something that a faceless corporation can’t offer.

For about a year, I have owned a Kindle. And I love it. But I also love going to the bookstore. The ease of buying a book on my e-reader could never replace the joy of the actual store.

Next to my bed, my Kindle sits on top of a print edition of “House of Leaves,” which provides nearly comical symbolism representing my struggle with print and digital books.

When talking with Wilmer, I found that she herself –– yes, the owner of an independent bookstore –– owns an e-reader. She finds it easier to read than a computer, and even though she doesn’t use it a lot, she sees it as a tool.

Just as the television is a tool to watch sports, it doesn’t mean you never set foot in a stadium. Even though your iPod is a tool to listen to music, it doesn’t mean you don’t go to a concert.

Bookstores and e-readers can, in fact, co-exist in the digital age.

The e-reader is a way to make books more accessible, faster to obtain and cheaper to produce. For the reader on the go, they are a convenience; and for the person who just finished “Game of Thrones” and needs the next book in the series, they are a lifesaver.

But the bookstore provides the other half of the reading equation. It offers a cooperative experience to reading where you can speak with authors and other book lovers, and share your personal connection to books. It’s a tangible, physical representation of our reading culture –– one I would hope that we aren’t ready to give up.

If you get an e-reader this holiday season or already own one, you might start to feel unfulfilled. You will find your fingers itching to flip pages, you will look longingly at your empty bookshelf and you will need someone to talk with about your latest read. But there’s an answer for all this: the bookstore.

_News Editor Matt Miller is a junior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com. _

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