With all the talk of premature “reopening” one development does seem to bring cheery news. Germany and Italy, it is reported, are considering experimenting with opening bookstores. Bookstores, at least in the United States, tend not to be crowded except around the winter holidays. More importantly, they are places to go to find printed knowledge—not the internet knowledge that shifts by the second. This cheers me because it shows that people still trust books. With all the talk of going digital, which is okay, we sometimes forget that the human experience of reading has, for the last several centuries, been book based. I’m as guilty as the next guy for looking trivial stuff up on the internet. I always feel uncertain, however, if I don’t check it against a book.
Nielsen, the people who used to bring you television ratings, also track books at point of sales. One of their findings is that books have remained solid sellers throughout the pandemic. Granted, a lot of them are children’s books—it’s one way to entertain the stay-at-home kids—but several categories have fared well. Books on staying in shape, and survival, and how to do things we used to know how to do (planting a garden, or making bread) have boomed. I suspect people have felt some comfort in reading. Books are reassuring. They’re a sign of normalcy. Having said all that, I’m not sure I’m ready to go back into a physical bookstore just yet. Infection rates have slowed down around here, but they’re still high. And other people who miss bookstores as much as I do might form a crowd.
Bookshop.org has arisen to give back to independent bookstores. Yes, the prices aren’t what you’ll find on Amazon, and yes, you’ll pay for shipping, but they support your local indies. This doesn’t seem to be a bad idea during a crisis. One of the more charming aspects of the Lehigh Valley is the number of bookstores in the area. I am looking forward to an “all clear” when we can emerge like post-apocalyptic survivors and stand blinking in the sun. In my vision of that day, there will be birds singing and trees leafed out. The air will be clean. We’ll stare at our neighbors, assured that if we accidentally brush against them, or stand too close in line, we won’t do so at the risk of exposure. I’ll stand there for some time acclimating to the new reality. And then I’ll head for a bookstore.