So we saw Ann Patchett speak on Monday night. Author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder, Patchett has made the news lately by opening up an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville.
Patchett opened her store to fill a gap left by the closure of two major chains in Nashville. Like Pittsburgh, like towns all over, the major chains had come in, decimated the smaller stores, and then collapsed when they couldn't match Amazon. Certainly, that has been the case for me. When I first moved to Pittsburgh, Squirrel Hill had an independent bookstore. Then Barnes and Noble came in and the bookstore closed. Then Borders came to Shadyside. And now both that particular B&N and Borders are gone.
So I've filled that gap with Amazon and my Kindle. Is it ideal? In many ways, yes. It's instant gratification. It's lower prices. Patchett offered a list of books that she's recommending to her customers, and I ended up getting them on my Kindle, because I have no local bookstore. Have I contributed to this problem because I use Amazon? Sure.
But, what Patchett pointed out is that while she has nothing against e-readers and reports that her husband actually reads more on his e-reader than he ever has before (something that is proving to be true with my husband as well), her sales of State of Wonder have been split evenly between Kindle sales and hardback sales. And the people who don't want to read on e-readers deserve a bookstore, a place to go. The book is not dead. The bookstore is a community.
(And I can't help but point out that the same is true of the Local Yarn Store. You can buy all the Knitpicks you want, but if you want help, if you want to meet fellow knitters, if you want community, the best place to get it is your local yarn store. And since I see so many of our customers at the Arts and Lectures series, I know that knitters and readers are of the same tribe and can understand this.)
So where is my book community? For now, in my neighborhood, it's my library, which deserves all the help and money we can give. When we go to Jackson, I am delighted to spend my time and money at Valley Books, an excellent, well-curated independent shop.
I don't know if we'll ever get an independent shop back in our neighborhood, but the ultimate message of Patchett's lecture is to READ, to support authors, and support communities of readers.