I could be like Fiona and have a recording of The Kingston Trio in the background singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", but I won't. You can watch the video and listen by clicking the link.
Today, we ask the important and not-quite-rhetorical question, "Where have all the bookstores gone?"
There was a time when there were lots of small, niche bookstores all over. If you wanted mysteries, there was a store that specialized in them. Science fiction? - across the street. Romance? - three blocks down. Politics? - not far. Children's books? - all over.
But today, most of those little bookstores are gone, along with the clerks who had been there since the transition from cuneiform tablets ... people who could unerringly go to the exact spot in the dusty stacks to find that book you thought had long disappeared, and who could go on to recommend other things you might like.
What happened to the bookstores? A lot of things.
People don't read as much any more, for one. I can't imagine not reading, but I see a lot of people, particularly younger folks, who don't read anything more challenging than the latest issue of TV Guide or People magazine.
And books have gotten pretty expensive: new hardcovers can run to $30 or $40, especially for the nonfiction titles I often buy, and paperbacks can go for $15-$20. Is it any wonder that people now go to the big wholesale stores like Costco to buy their bestsellers, instead of going to the local specialty bookstore?
Rents have gone up, too, forcing out many smaller bookstores in favor of the big chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble. Some of those chain stores have knowledgeable staffs, but most of them rely on computers to look up the things that a little old clerk used to lead you to without fail.
People spend more time online as well. I still believe it's easier to read ink on paper, but many others would rather read things online...removing still more customers from traditional bookstores.
Last week, Marc Fisher wrote about the decline of the bookstore in an article in the Washington Post. Many of his observations are the same as the ones I've made over the years, but he also connects the loss of bookstores to the overall decline in our communities and our "sense of place." I agree.
I've written in this space before about the most wonderful teacher I ever had - the inimitable Mrs Penny Smith, she of the happy cackle and the "Expanding Horizons Nights" she hosted at her home for her high school Humanities students. When she retired, she opened a little bookstore called Calliope that was a wonderful place to go for books, peace and quiet, and stimulating conversation with a warm and erudite lady. Mrs Smith passed away many years ago, and in the place where Calliope once stood there's now a generic fast-food joint.
And we're all a little poorer for it.
Have a good day. Support your local bookstore. Tomorrow may be too late.
More thoughts coming.