Monday, March 7, 2011

Kindle, Nooks, Amazon, Big Box Bookstores, or Indies?

We know the paper books vs. e-reader (Kindles, Nooks, etc.) debate isn't a brand-new one. We at the Mark Twain House, however, are fascinated by this cultural shift, not only as an organization founded on a writer and publisher, but as a museum with a small bookstore within our walls. No matter what you think of Kindles and the like, their presence is having an unquestionable effect on the book industry.

If you are a book lover, you no doubt have noticed many announcements of stores small and large alike shutting down. Here's the latest we've heard.

The question at hand is: should we accept the descent of the paper book, and embrace the future of books-on-screen? Paper books likely will not disappear for centuries, or maybe ever, but it is possible that they might become more of a specialty item, harder to find, more expensive, for aficionados only. Or maybe, as large book chains struggle, this is the moment for independent bookstores to step back into the spotlight. Our museum bookstore sold an astounding number of copies of Twain's Autobiography, and despite the fact that Twain's works are in the public domain and on the internet, does a bang-up business selling the writer's works to visitors.

But let's take a moment, step back, and talk about the book itself. The internet has been churning out odes to the paper book (ironic!), many of which are worth sharing.

Here's an excerpt from Frenemy'sWith real books, there are moments in a a doctor’s office. You watch a girl, maybe fifteen, pull out the Great Gatsby. You remember the moment you fell for it during the bare legged swing and lemonade sip of your sophomore summer. That month you soaked up the pain of love with the kind of awe and understanding that you will never be as brilliant as Fitzgerald. Or Vonnegut. You remember reading sentences from the great and the dead that throw you against a wall or rip your heart out, so you touch the pages and run your fingers down the ink in substitute. There are moments on the subway. A cute, tousled hair kind of guy pulls out a book you have never read. You watch his face, the movements of his mouth as he soaks it up and for a moment you love him. You take out your book, ruffle through your purse, find that paperback and let somebody fall in love with you as you struggle to read with one hand gripped on the crowded railing.

And here's Powell's Books Blog, which is a lively, wonderful conversation on literature. Powell's is a huge indie book store in Portland, Oregon, and if you haven't been there, try to make a pilgrimage sometime. This isn't an actual ode to books as much as it is a living breathing book-loving community.

And one from Julia's blogI do not read while I am waiting to do other things. I do other things while I am waiting to read. As a child I used to lie on my parents’ bed to read picture books with my father; as he’d fall asleep the pages we’d already read together would flutter haphazardly in the wrong direction, and I didn’t have to turn to his face to know he had fallen asleep. 

How about you? Any favorite articles or blogs about books?

And how about favorite bookstores?  Mine's McNally Jackson in New York. And of course our own bookstore. Come visit!

-- The Mark Twain House

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