Revenge of the Grammar Geek: Smells like over-caffeinated book-loving not-a-teenager-anymore spirit

Kelly Weber

Those of you who like to read books, or are at least casual fans of the sport (or sideliners wondering what these crazy people find so interesting about looking at 200 pieces of paper all day) have probably heard of what I like to call “the great bookstore debate.” Aside from a rhyme, what is it? It’s the fall of the bookstore empires of Waldenbooks and Borders and the rise of Amazon/Kindle, the Nook, and other forms of digital reading. The conflict: should we completely replace physical bookstores with digital ones? Barnes and Noble is hanging in there, but I smell trouble brewing next to the lattes. As much as I love walking into a place with tremendous canvas art renditions of book covers and more colorful spines than a chiropractor’s office, I say it’s time to lose the physical booksellers that only provide new copies, and keep the used bookstores going until the books fall apart.

I feel a bit like a traitor in saying that. I’m the one who, with other book-loving friends and with only twenty minutes to spend in the middle of a road trip, sprints in a haze of delight into a store full of endless books. Some of my fondest memories involve sitting at bookstore chess sets and sipping coffee, watching snow fall outside the window past the rows of classics. If I could turn the smell of books into a caffeinated beverage, I would. However, I also have had a basement flood and ruin several books. My backpacks are bulging and ripping as books tear through like Frankenstein monsters. With one click, I’ve instantly bought digital stories cheaper than in-store copies and more convenient than hard copy books. The last time I actually bought a book from Barnes and Noble was perhaps three years ago. Friends, it’s time to ‘fess up: we need to lose the physical new book retailers. They’re expensive, breaking shelves, and don’t seem to carry books (except classics) older than two years—which cuts out a wealth of wonderful old books now lost because they’re no longer “popular.” Digital sellers are the way to go.

Except with used stores.

Used stores offer the discounted prices and out-of-print gems that draw me and other readers away from otherwise slick digital copies. Just as I wouldn’t expect an entire modern retail store to sell wooden rocking horses anymore, but would travel to visit antiques dealers that specialize in them, I treated used bookstores as places for bargains, gifts, and quirks, such as the nickel-priced Ray Bradbury anthologies (shush).

These stores also offer me the tangible atmosphere I can’t get through a digital book: the smell of books and people shuffling to and fro like amiable zombies. I don’t mind collecting a few books I can’t get any other way.

Used bookstores need to replace the over-commercialized booksellers churning out titles with jaw-breaking prices. The former offer fun relics and viable alternatives to digital copies which the latter always seem to be chasing.