Death of the Bookstore
London, New York, Toronto. It is not uncommon to find literature and these cities together in a single sentence, but for how much longer?
It is no secret that today’s generation relies greatly on technology to get through every day. It seems we are so plugged-in that we have unplugged ourselves from the real world around us. The rise of technology has become a demand for advancement, with everyone and everything expecting to move at a breakneck pace in a race towards efficiency.
This quiet war waged between technology and literature is one that literature has begun to lose. Since 2004, when Sony released its E-Reader Librie, the popularity of E-Readers and E-Books has been climbing steadily. E-Readers are lauded for the convenience they provide to many men and women with long commutes or those who frequently take to the skies for business or pleasure. E-Readers are, in a word, efficient, but it seems like a tragedy that people are willing to forget the comfortable weighty feeling of a paperback in your purse, or the delightful thrill that travels up your spine by the creak of bindings as you open a hardback for the very first time.
Gone too, will be the comforting papery smell of your favourite bookstore. Since 2012, there has been a rash of bookstore closures all over Toronto, three of which have shut their doors within the last three months. This plague is not just affecting the smaller, independent bookstores, nor is this problem exclusive to Toronto. New York and London, cities that pride themselves on having built a veritable literary empire, have also been feeling the effects. Since the year 2000, New York has seen its number of bookstores shrink form 150 to 106. Large scale chain bookstores, such as Chapters and Barnes & Noble, have been forced to close down flagship stores, and focus on marketing their toys and lifestyle sections as a last ditch effort to keep their heads above water.
The death of the bookstore is a tragic thing – for those who notice at least.
The passive response to this wave of closures from anyone outside these cities’ literary circles is alarming. No one seems to mind that we are slowly losing an important aspect of society. Literature is something that has the power to ground us, to re-connect us to the world and those around us. So many people from all over the world have found solace and freedom within the pages of a book. By taking away a literary presence in cities, we are silencing the voices of countless people. To allow technology to take away such a tangible connection with the world would be a devastating and unspeakable loss.
More needs to be done in order to salvage what still survives of literary culture in North America. The Pages Festival and Conference held in Toronto this past March, consisted of three full days of events aimed to educate people on the future of the publishing industry, how it is changing, and what can be done to adapt. Conferences like these are a great first step towards preserving the experience, true joy, and wonder that literature can bring. It is up to the older generations to keep the literary spirit alive in our cities. Let us re-introduce our children to local libraries. Show them that libraries are more than just a place to go and play computer games. There are shelves upon shelves full of new adventures waiting to be embarked upon. Let us unplug for a little while, allow ourselves to reconnect with our families and open our minds to the possibilities of new worlds, new experiences, new cultures, and maybe save a book or two in the process.