Everyone is a little obsessive/compulsive about something although it might take some of us awhile before we realize it. When my children were all at home, we used to make a yearly trip to Washington, DC, a ten hour trip by car. My kids were good travelers; we stopped every two hours or so which eliminated the “are we there yet?” inquiries. They figured out pretty quickly how many stops there were before we arrived at whatever hotel were we using.
The hotel choices in the early years were limited to those which had an indoor pool (these trips were always in February) and were in close proximity to a mall that had book stores. A nearby Civil War battlefield was a bonus. DC has a very good public transportation system so we could park the car on arrival and not have to move it, or battle for a parking space, in the city. Back then, my kids thought riding the transit system was a treat.
Days were spent touring the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress. One year, the Library was hosting an exhibition of items from the Vatican. One of the items was the letter written by Henry VIII asking the pope for the annulment of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. When we were in the corridors at the Capitol, the kids tried to see how many famous faces they recognized from the news. Evenings consisted of dinner, a browse in a bookstore, and the pool. But most of our time was spent at the Smithsonian museums. None of my kids were enthused by the Air and Space Museum but they loved the Museum of Natural History. February was a great time to go; there were no crowds. One of my daughters was enthralled by bugs. She didn’t care how ugly it was or how many legs it had. Once, she spent the better part of a day studying an ant farm. On one of our visits, she had the bug zoo at the Smithsonian pretty much to herself. The docent took a bug and out it on her shirt. Instant camouflage! The bug disappeared into whatever color it was on. It was the highlight of that trip. The Museum of American History and its bookstore accounted for another day and we would spend a couple of days in the various art museums. They loved all of it because it never occurred to them that they wouldn’t.
And, the Smithsonian Museums are free.
The number of visits increased when my oldest went to law school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. She applied because she knew the area from trips to Colonial Williamsburg. Her only disappointment was the scarcity of bookstores.
Those trips were usually from Saturday to Saturday. Our days were full. But the week before vacation was spent in endless discussions about what to bring….not clothes or stuffed animals but books. New books could and would be acquired on the trip but the books that were true favorites had to come too. Everybody had a bulging book bag. Just one book a day was risking boredom so it needed to be two books a day and if two were coming why not three?
There is an article in the New York Times today about the disappearance of the bookstore. The small, local bookstores have long since been eaten up by the big chains. Now, Barnes & Noble is the only national chain still in business and that may not be for much longer. Amazon contributed greatly to the demise of the small stores and regional chains and really kicked them to the ground with the introduction of the Kindle. Barnes & Noble moved faster than Borders and created the Nook but in putting its money into an ereader and ebooks, it has had less money to put into published books. Borders disappeared with barely a sigh. Barnes & Noble is likely to close stores and to turn much of the space in the remaining stores to the Nook. How much browsing will there be?
My children were not more intelligent nor more curious than other kids their age. But they accepted the idea that a trip to a bookstore was a treat. They didn’t get a book each time. Sometimes they read a book while they were there. They did enjoy the discovery of a new author or a new series and the weighty decision of which book should be bought next was part of the fun. An ereader isn’t going to provide that. It isn’t going to replace the migration of books from one person’s books to another person’s bookshelves. It will be convenient but it won’t be the same. I have had my Kindle for over a month. I have bought a few books but I haven’t read anything on it yet. I still have a wonderful, colorful stack of books to get through yet. One factor in the Kindle’s favor is that my library system does have ebooks that can be borrowed….
but if we treasure the bookstore experience, Barnes & Noble needs our support. Amazon is moving toward a position that is stunning in its implication. Amazon may dictate what we read by what it carries in stock.