Friday, May 13, 2005

Saying goodbye to a beloved bookstore

I don't know how I missed it, but one of my favorite bookstores closed at the end of October 2004 and I just didn't hear about it. WordsWorth Books in Harvard Square was my home away from home during my four years at Harvard College. And now it's gone! I knew they had filed for bankruptcy, but not closed. It pains me. Harvard Bookstore better be thriving -- Harvard Square just wouldn't be the same without it, and I don't think I could stand losing yet another favorite bookstore... even one thousands of miles away.

Hillel Stavis, owner of WordsWorth Books, in a Boston Globe interview after WordsWorth's closing, talked about reading, bookstores, and booksellers's reading habits:

As independent bookstores wither away, what of the future of reading? Is it time to prepare the obituary for bookstores?

''No, people read, although they have attention-span-reading-disorder. People buy books, but I have a suspicion they don't read them through. Everybody bought [Umberto] Eco's 'The Name of the Rose,' but how many read it? [Hey, when I was a bookseller I wanted to sell books. Sure, I would like everyone to be a voracious reader, but, let's get real, no one ever reads every book s/he buys!]

''Habits are changing. Bookstores are no longer the sole repository, other than libraries, of intellectual pursuit. There's competition. Television has not only stupid music videos but serious offerings, like the History Channel. From the Internet, you can download Shakespeare.

''I don't want to give the impression books are becoming extinct. Recently, I was looking at John Locke's 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding.' Online, you can read three paragraphs and get the gist, but if you bought the book you might tend to read the whole thing. [I thought people didn't read the books they bought, but maybe Locke just trumps Eco... Nah...]And unlike your tape recorder or a plasma TV, a book is relatively inexpensive. You can lose it and replace it easily, and so, when you think about Gutenberg's invention, it's proven to be portable, cheap, and remarkably durable."
''People fantasize about owning a bookstore, but what happens is that you get so busy with minutiae you don't have time to read. If there's a retirement home for booksellers, what you'd see is a lot of old booksellers sitting in rocking chairs, and what would they be doing? They'd be reading all the books they never had time to read when they owned a bookstore."
Now, that I agree with. When I was a bookseller I hardly had time to read. In fact, I read much less those two years than at any other time since I was about 10 years old. I always felt that I was drowning in a sea of text... (I still miss, though, the thrill of opening the boxes of new books and of handselling beloved titles to potential readers, but not the aggravation of dealing with vendors or employees or taxes...)

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