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In a lament about the loss of bookstores (which I can’t shake myself), Sven Birkets writes:

This grieves me. This is a loss far bigger than a loss of a particular kind of access to books. It marks the effective removal of what is finally a symbolic representation. Less and less will it seem right and natural, expected and desirable, that people should gather in appealing public spaces for the sole purpose of catering to, and perhaps flaunting, their mental (their inner) lives. Less and less is it already happening that this thread unexpectedly leads to that with the counter clerk, or even another customer, suddenly blurting, “Oh, if you haven’t read—” That species of retail adventure is already being replaced by preference algorithms: the Pandorification of America.

First of all, I’ve spent as much time in big and small bookstores as any other bookslut and never once have I had that “Oh, if you haven’t read –” experience in a store. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that I don’t wander into Indie book stores with my beret and Che shirt, but honestly I’ve never had it even when I’ve been talking to proprietors about fiction and travel narratives. Second, isn’t the Pandorification of books awesome? There is no reason that matching preferences this way has to bump out other ways of learning about books. Third, I regularly skim the NY Times Review of Books as well as a variety of blogs that voraciously cover what is going on in the book world – that is a far more enriching experience than having some bookstore owner politely suggest a book without his having the time (or perhaps ability) to do the extensive filtering and exposition that make this source terrific. Fourth, in my younger days most of the best book suggestions I received were from my friends – people whom I understood and who also understood the things I liked. Is Amazon displacing friendship? Is the Pandorification of books going to prevent me and some buddies from sharing some beers and chatting about the interesting things we read? Fifth, well, 90% of the stuff I read was written more than 10 years ago and there are myriad ways I go about discovering those works. Only a small portion of the time do I get those references from newly released works. Six, is it impossible to think the same experience cannot be had on Amazon or through some other medium?

I think the author recognizes these things, so I don’t mean to come off too harsh. Perhaps I was annoyed by reading Peggy Noonan in the nearby print lamenting that for the first time this generation of parents does not think that their kids will be better off than they will be. Well, I am not one of those parents, and I wonder where she gets that data from. But given the record of economic growth in the U.S. that claim is preposterous. That last sentence is also preposterous when taking the long view of world history.

Now I must get back to my book (Realizing Freedom) which I recall learning about from a blog post from a blog I regularly read, about a year ago.

2 Responses to “Like You Can’t Have That Experience Elsewhere?”

  1. Harry says:

    You got me all excited about YOUR book, Mike.

    Peggy annoys me, but I’m never to provoked to write a Philippic, fearing a Philippic about my prose.

    Locally, the last bookstore closed thirty years ago. The library remained open, though, and I will be the first one to order any book you might write, so our county or local branch will have to purchase it. I will of course buy my own copy for my library, provided it is an autographed first edition.

    Is the title going to be Economic and Golf Sophisms?

  2. Susan Cholette says:

    As Harry mentions, there’s always the LIBRARY. But I guess they only have one copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” available at a time, so that means that someone might actually have borrow a book of real literary value instead. The horror!

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