Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Demise of Bookstores

My life would not be what it is without the bookstores that I have loved.

I just read another article about the demise of bookstores, and my heart sunk a little deeper. Even though the author is attempting to cast the story in a positive light, the fact is, bookstores are on the seriously endangered list.

In the past few years, here in Los Angeles, I have seen many of my favorite book haunts disappear. A funny thing: as many of you know, I go out and interview people who work in jobs that I think could be endangered (photo processing shops, record stores, video stores, etc). Most people are very helpful and want to be interviewed, to talk about thier business and why it matters.

Earlier this year, I decided I had to interview a bookseller.

I first approached a lady who owned and ran a delightful second-hand bookstore on Santa Monica Blvd. When I first spoke to her, and told her about my project, she opened up in a candid way. She told me her bookstore had been there since 1969 (ancient by Santa Monica standards) and that she had owned it since 1997. Fighting back tears, she said that she had never foreseen a time when bookstores as a species would be fighting for survival. I asked if I could come back and record her thoughts and she said: sure.

Just before our scheduled interview, she called to say that she couldn't do it after all. She said she felt it was wrong of her to align herself with the idea that bookstores were obsolete. I explained that my intention was to help save the species of bookstores by highlighting their plight, but I understood her position.

A few months later (and after three - yes three! - more book sellers had turned down my request for an interview for the same reason), I found myself in a cafe on Santa Monica Blve after viewing the most recent Dardennes brothers' film at the Royal Cinema. As I was drinking my coffee and contemplating the film, my attention was caught by a FOR RENT sign across the street.

Her bookstore was gone.


What had been stacked to the rafters with intrigue and knowledge, was now just a dusty empty shell.

My heart was broken.

I don't know about you, but the bookstores I grew up in were my home and my refuge, a place of constant discovery. A place where the world grew for me.

My heart breaks. Every time a bookstore closes. My heart breaks.

I urge you if you feel as I do - to find the closest bookstore to your home (preferably an independent one) - and to go there and buy a book. Or buy five!

If we want them to survive, we have to take action now. There's no time to waste. They're dying before our eyes. Buy a book, talk to the bookseller. If you want her to be there five years for now, if you want your child to have the joy of discovering literature in their own private and wonderful journey, go to a bookstore today and spend some money.

Otherwise, might be too late.