Yesterday was National Bookstore Day in Australia, and like a lot of authors around the country I turned up at my local bookstore to say “Thanks for selling our books.” My Dymocks here in Bundaberg were particularly pleased because I came bearing chocolate mud cake, but the more important message was that authors care. With the demise of bookstore chains and the pressure from eBook sales (which continue to soar) there’s a lot of gloom and doom surrounding the future of bookstores. There’s also a lot of talk among writers about how that affects us, and to be honest, from what I’ve heard recently at the Romance Writers of Australia conference from #NYT best selling authors, print publishers and eBook publishers, they all say the same thing: authors who write a good story will be fine. The format for delivery of our stories is changing, but the demand for good stories remains strong, and whether the format is print books or eBooks, we’ll still make money.
So that’s the writers side of the equation, but from a readers perspective things have a different slant, and as we writers need to understand our audience (and most writers are readers too), this bears looking at. You’d have to be deep in first draft to have missed the wave of grief (and outrage in some quarters) at the idea that print books may soon become as challenging to buy as an LP record. I doubt that will happen, but if it does, those readers who perceive the world in a tactile/kinaesthetic way – myself included – will be the hardest hit.
The loss of a container for story which I can hold and caress (a book) will upset many of the rituals I have around reading that give me such pleasure. I do understand that eReaders are super efficient and freely admit I use one myself on occasion. Their publicity was true in my experience – as soon as I drop into the story I completely forget that I’m holding a machine in my hands instead of a book. I’m “in” the story and the format for delivery is no longer important. I even have Kindle for mobile on my smartphone so if I get stuck waiting somewhere I’ve got something to read. They do have their place and I’m not denying that.
But being “in” the story isn’t the only pleasure I get out of reading. Anticipation of the reading experience is important to me too, the same way anticipating catching up with an old friend for coffee (or a new man for dinner) can create excitement and pleasure long before the actual meeting takes place. I’m also not ashamed to admit I feel happy just standing in front of my bookcase looking at all the multicoloured spines, remembering the thrill each book has given me. Plus, I adore covers! There’s nothing nicer than revisiting a great cover and remembering the characters and the world that author created. Even reading a back cover blurb can evoke a spurt of happy memories.
Then there’s the coffee table beside my lounge where I sit when I’m on a writing break. I always have a couple of books on the go, and they sit there with their enticing covers, waiting for me to come back, feeding that delicious anticipation every time I glance their way.
And don’t get me started on the smell! There is nothing more fabulous than the scent that drifts up as you open a new book for the first time. And as the paper ages the scent changes, the same way a baby’s milky-sweet scent gives way to the school-lunchbox smells of ‘children’ and the musky hormones of a teenager. Books grow. For those of us who adore books, they can be even more potent a thrill-trigger than the smell of the first-picked strawberry of the season, or that first sniff of the ocean when your car reaches the esplanade. The pleasure pathways in my brain that are triggered by the scent of books lie dormant when I use an eReader, and to say that’s disappointing would be an understatement.
Reading should be an experience that’s rich with the texture and tradition of pleasure. And I ‘get’ that we’re living in a fast paced world, but when the pendulum swings too far towards rat-on-a-wheel, you end up with rebellions like the Slow Food Movement that send you back to savouring the process of what comes before you eat the meal. I’m sure there will always be a market for printed books, but I’m less certain that I’ll be able to drive down the road and walk into a book store if Amazon and the Book Depository keep snagging all the trade.
So if you’re a reader like me who loves the sensual experience of a printed book “to have and to hold”, act now before it’s too late. Go into your local bookstore, introduce yourself (particularly if you’re a writer) and buy your books there. I’m sure they’d be happy to order in anything they don’t currently stock. I’ve recently become hooked into the completely addictive YA series by Kelly Armstrong that starts with Bitten, and was delighted to find book two on their shelves when I went in with my mudcake. So I bought it! Easy, and now it’s sitting on the coffee table saying “Read me! Read me!” every time I walk past.
And I love that too. More than I can say.