Saturday, January 8, 2011

Geoff Bait

Sorry Bud, but I have to agree with this critique by Megan McArdle on the failure of Amazon and other online booksellers to provide some of the serendipitous qualities that traditional brick-and-mortar establishments do:

Personally I hope they're wrong, too; like most writers, I like bookshops. I suspect most of us had our destiny shaped while we were sandwiched behind the bookshelves at our local dealer.

On the other hand, like most of the writers I know, I rarely go into bookshops anymore. Instead, the UPS truck stops at our house at least once a week, thanks to Prime, and more and more, I order Kindle books straight from my iPad. I know that I am missing something--the serendipity of browsing through the bookshelves--which I have never replaced at Amazon; much as I love the convenience of online shopping, I never find anything that I am not looking for.

In the end, she concludes that the convenience of always getting precisely what you want outweighs what's lost in terms of stumbling across new pieces of literature entirely accidentally, particularly inasmuch as libraries still exist.

I agree. However, libraries are for BORROWING. And I for one, much prefer to OWN. I believe there is a value to possessing books, even bad ones. They're spiritually valuable objects and having them readily at hand, is important to me. In short, I love my bookshelves, overflowing with the good, the bad, the useful and the broadly esoteric. Were I limited to the titles that I expressly went to the store looking for, they'd be practically bare.

And I think that beyond mere materialism, I'd be lesser for it. Some examples: I'd have never been exposed to the works or life of Christopher Marlowe. I'd know next to nothing about Africa. I'd have never laughed out loud and John Hogman's list of famous hobos. These are things that I discovered I loved while browsing about for nothing in particular.

This is not to say that I don't love Amazon, it's a terrific service. But I worry about wonderful specificity and efficiency obscuring fabulous literary luck.

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