In traveling to support The Weird Sisters, I’ve been in a lot of bookstores over the past few months, not only for appearances, but for stock signings (where an author comes to the store to sign the copies they have on hand), interviews, and a few moments of respite in all the hubbub.
There’s been a lot of doom and gloom about the fate of books and publishing and bookstores of late, and understandably so. But each time I go into a bookstore, I find myself thinking of Mark Twain’s quote, “…the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Because here’s the thing: these bookstores are BUSY. The shelves are stocked, and there are people browsing with stacks of books in their arms. There are lines at the cash registers. There are author events and signed copies on the shelves. If the store has a cafe, there are people with cups of coffee and laptops, or cups of tea and books. There are book and writing groups meeting, and children’s story times with readers in costume.
I’m not going to argue with statistics about sales or stores that have closed – we’re definitely in the midst of change here. But I do think it is change, and not death we’re working with.
In addition to being in lots of bookstores, I’ve been in lots of airports, and for every person texting on their cell phone while we wait to board, there are people reading. Some of them are reading physical books and newspapers and magazines, some of them are reading on Kindles or Nooks or Kobos or Sonys or iPads. But they are reading.
It seems to me that bookstores have undergone a shift – they’re not simply stores anymore. They’re community centers. Some people are going to come in for the Wi-Fi and the coffee and never buy a book. But some parents are going to come in for storytime because they the kids desperately need a break, and they’re going to walk out with a book for themselves and one for their kids. Or some people are going to come, as happened when I read with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein at Newtonville Books last week, to see one author read and walk out with the other author’s book.
What do you think? Are we calling bookstores dead before their time?