Hawking Up Hairballs

Friday, December 07, 2007

Barnes & Noble

So there I was, sitting at my desk pondering a discount coupon from Barnes & Noble. (Okay, so it's not really a desk. It's a cheap folding table that I bought at Office Depot years ago. Emphasis on the word "cheap".) It was offering me 25% off of any item I buy from them. It came in the mail a few weeks ago, and it has to be used by Dec. 9. That's two days after Pearl Harbor Day, and just one after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Does that freight it with particular significance? Am I going to get dive-bombed or sent to hell if I don't use it?

Whatever, but I will undoubtedly let the coupon expire. I was excited when a Barnes & Noble store opened just a couple of miles from my house a few years ago. Yeah, I knew it was one of those chain stores that were managed like supermarkets, but it was a bookstore, and the only one even remotely close to my house. I should have known better though. It's not that I have a problem with the way Barnes & Noble puts the best sellers on that little table at the front of the store. Nor do I begrudge them the annoying special displays for the latest hot titles. They're in the business of making money after all. No, what really bothers me is the paucity of good books anywhere in the store. There was a time when you just might run across a copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or Wittgenstein's Tractatus in a run-of-the-mill bookstore. There used to be a section for fiction, and another for pop fiction. Browsing used to be fun. Not anymore though. The fiction is now all grouped together and, if I go looking for a novel to read, I have to pick through copy after copy of the likes of John Grisham, Stephen King, and Patricia Cornwell, to find anything I might even consider reading. It makes for a tedious browsing experience, and it's no longer any fun. It's much like stepping into a bar, only to find out that they only serve non-alcoholic beer. What's the point?

I guess I shouldn't complain about the inevitable though. Prior to the twentieth century and the invention of media like radio, television and the cinema, the only way you could get information was by word of mouth or by reading. That led to a privileged position for books. They became the repository of all culture. Things are different now. TV and movies are the preferred entertainments. Judging from the habits of some people I know, the cable channels are their source of knowledge about history, politics, and science. Hell, surveys show that a large segment of the young get their news from the Comedy Channel's Daily Show, which is nothing but a send-up of real news shows. It's no wonder then that books have come to assume a less important role in our lives. Those cozy little independent stores are unlikely to ever return. As for me, when I want a book that I can't find in the library, I now buy it from Amazon. For each book, they provide links to similar books, and to books bought by those who purchased the book you've chosen. It doesn't come up to browsing, but it's preferable to working my way down the spacious, well-lit aisles of Barnes & Noble.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home