An off-the-cuff remark by Sandeep Mathrani, some CEO of something or other, had the publishing world buzzing a couple weeks back. The rumor began that Amazon.com was about to open hundreds of brick-and-mortar bookstores. After the opening of a store in Seattle, the idea—neither confirmed nor denied by Amazon—has made the book industry reassess its future yet again. Stock in Barnes and Noble immediately fell, but soon recovered. As someone whose entire life has revolved around books, I was glad to read the story. I have no idea of the business implications—I just don’t think that way—but the fact that book news was deemed newsworthy at all was heartening. Of course, it would be even better news if this signaled a growing interest in books.
The book industry has been a steady one, despite worries and shifts of format, but it has never been as robust in America as it has been even in the small nation of Iceland. There are too many distractions for people to dedicate the quiet hours required to open a book and learn from it. When I sit on the bus and the driver has forgotten to turn on the overhead reading lights, almost nobody complains. Although I see some Kindles in the dark, it is often social media or movies that the person next to me is viewing. A longish bus ride, it seems to me, is the place for a book. Portable knowledge. Do we ever stop to consider the wonder of this anymore? All it takes is a rumor and the industry quivers.
Books, like monsters, are one of those topics that has an inherent connection to religion. No matter how secular a writing may be today, books have close ties to religion, and they always have. The great secrets of religious explorers and inventors are kept between the covers for any awaiting enlightenment. We have become a more secular people, but the religion of secularism is intellectual. The basis for such thinking comes in book form. For me, there’s always a sense of accomplishment with finishing a book. A gold star on the sticker chart. And I worry about books following the thylacine into extinction. And if the thylacine is something you don’t recognize, I have a book that I could recommend.