They seemed downright giddy at my neighborhood bookstore this week. Book people crave a steady stream of new books, and in that sense summer in the bookshop seems endless. There hasn’t been a big new title in months. The spring books have been re-displayed in every conceivable way to make them seem fresh. And the Recent Releases section is a ghost town. But with the end of August comes the trickle of new titles that will become a flood by October. Yee Ha!
Though I’m bored to death with the subject of e-books, I keep stumbling on unpleasant little reminders of what our digital book future might be like. So many of the implications of a book world where e-books are the norm and printed editions a quaint artifact are strangely unexamined, though I guess new technologies are only ever really evaluated in retrospect.
I had stopped by Boswell Book Company to pick up my copy of the Jonathan Franzen novel Freedom, which, according to bookseller Jason Kennedy, case quantities of other customers had also put on advance hold. Call me old school, but being notified by the bookstore that something I’d ordered has arrived makes me want to drop everything and run. It is not a chore. I do not think to myself, “too bad I couldn’t just have the book itself on my phone rather than a message from Bev.”
In particular, I love the sense of occasion that surrounds release of a book people care about. The enthusiasm is a little contagious, starting in the receiving room where the books are unpacked and matched with holds, to the front desk where they’re stacked for pick-up, to the individual customers, who might be pleased to see their great taste confirmed by the many reserves. (Or not. If you pride yourself on your supposedly distinctive reading choices it may be a little depressing.)
At any rate, a new literary novel or smart biography with excellent advance buzz is cause for a party atmosphere. And it happens fairly frequently in bookstores. I’m not referring to the Harry Potter level spectacle, with midnight openings and cameras and children in pajamas. I'm talking about the modest, everyday excitement that comes with new books. The displaying of which and the picking up of which are something like social events.
And to return to the dreaded topic, this is yet another aspect of e-books that just sounds so joyless to me. Forget the argument about paper vs. e-ink. I’m just wondering how and whether the satisfying little social ritual of collecting a book you’ve been anxiously awaiting at your bookstore can ever be replaced by sitting alone at home on the sofa, downloading text onto a slab of plastic.