Another local bookshop has become memory here in Wellington this month. Bennetts Government Bookshop announced it’s closing its doors.
It’s the sign of a new age. Five years ago there were seven bookstores down the golden mile of Lambton Quay – the top retail street in New Zealand. You could conjure with their names; Parsons, Bennetts, Borders, Whitcoulls and Dymocks, a second hand store packed with great titles and a Paper Plus tucked away in a micro-mall. Today Parsons are still there – and coming up for their 60 year anniversary. A solid shop with quality books. Whitcoulls – after restructuring – it’s operating from the old Borders store. Paper Plus is about to enter rebuilt premises.
And the other four are gone. Gone.
It’s the harbinger of a changed world. The name of that world is Amazon. Mass market paperbacks are on the way out. Coffee-table books – they’ll survive in print, I think. Expensively.
But as we sit there with our tablets, our Kindles, our Kobos and our phones, I cannot help feeling a pang of loss for books that are tactile, for new books carrying that smell of printers’ ink, for old books opening in a cloud of dust, carrying all the promise of much-loved reading.We live in an age of tech miracles, and the death of paperbacks and bookstores is the price of that change, I guess.
But I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss the time when buying books meant going into a store and talking to someone – an expert, a book-buyer.
I’m going to miss the way we used to be able to leaf through books on those shop shelves, musing, pondering. That tactile, physical experience of being able to select – then take that physical object, pass over other physical objects, and go home with the book in a paper bag – all the while anticipating the pleasure of reading.
I’m going to miss the way we used to be able to take our favourite paperback novel and read it, re-read it and re-read it again, while the pages got dog-eared and the spine bent and the cover battered. Sure, we can still do all that for now. But it’s a vanishing world.
Actually, I’m missing it already. Are you?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012