Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gentle Reader

There is an old New Yorker cartoon with a man approaching the desk at a library or bookstore and asking, "Are there still books being written for Gentle Reader?" It addresses the concern of readers who fear books are becoming too harsh and violent, that there is no longer a place for the old-fashioned "gentle" reader who just loves a good story.

This isn't directly what I want to focus on. Books (and any medium or artistic form) will always address the concerns of the time in which they were written, in one way or another. Times always change, both for better and worse. New trends emerge, and old thoughts, habits, and technologies fall by the wayside. We are always losing "the way things were" in a "simpler" time (that wasn't always as simple as we recall). At least the books of the old days still remain. Some things, though, change the fabric of our society in more practical ways.

To put it another way: Are there still jobs available for Gentle Reader?

I had a conversation with my mom recently about Borders closing. She has worked for Barnes & Noble for several years, and I asked her if she thought it would weather the storm. She said she thought it would, since it had a good business model, but reflected that things were definitely changing. The store was likely going to be offering a smaller selection of physical books, in favor of promoting the Nook, e-books, and toys and games, "things people actually buy." She reflected, "There isn't going to be much use for people with my set of skills. It's going to be a lot more technical support and high-pressure sales."

This saddens me. To me, bookstores are supposed to be places people go, and work, because they love books. Not because they love technology or movies or music or games or (ugh) sales. BOOKS. Do these other things have their place? Of course. In fact, they have their places. Bookstores and libraries are the only places for books, and they are both facing tremendous pressure to change and move away from their original purposes.

No doubt some of this is inevitable. And, of course, many positive changes have resulted from more computerized and mobile access to information. But there is something about having a physical place to browse books that engenders a sense of community and serendipity in a way that Amazon will never be able to duplicate.

Is there still a place for Gentle Reader?

One wonders.

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