Jack’s Hardware, located on Packard Street, always has interesting signs. After receiving a shipment of soil
at the turn of the season: “Yep that is dirt, not rock salt.” After the closing of Borders: “Buy Local or Bye Local.”

Mitch Albom wrote a pretty nostalgic piece about the loss of the Michigan bookseller. I agree with Albom that today’s cult of instant gratification ensures that reading books is simply not high on the priority list these days, with wide varieties of entertainment found on the television and computer — Netflix for the former, Facebook for the latter. Borders has been done in by online booksellers and products like e-readers. A co-worker recently hawked its benefits: “But it’s so easy to hold! And so is turning the pages, and they actually even look like the ones in a book!”

I’m sorry, but are we so lazy that we can’t physically hold onto and turn the pages of a book? Call me Arnold, but leafing through actual pages doesn’t especially try my strength. Granted, e-readers do seem to be convenient in some ways, and I’ll admit I’ve briefly imagined myself owning such a gadget. As my coworker says — “You can take it anywhere!”

But then again, I’m pretty sure you can take a real book pretty much anywhere too. Hey, maybe even more places (i.e. the bathtub).

The only reason e-readers are popular at all is because they’re another useless gadget that people didn’t think they needed. Electronic readers attempt to create a niche and then fill it — they want you to suddenly notice the “inconvenience” and “hassle” of books. It reminds me of those infomercials for making perfect pancakes, or doughnuts, or what have you — the e-reader is essentially the critical kitchen item that will fix the cooking problems you never knew you had. I won’t even go into all the nasty complications that come from ownership of e-books. One fun fact: as the technology develops, file formats can and will become inaccessible over time.

Though I certainly hate the e-reader, it isn’t the sole slayer of the noble animal that was Borders. Jeff T. Wattrick, a writer on the blog MLive, criticized Albom for not mentioning the decline of libraries. As Wattrick points out, both the Troy and Highland Park libraries closed their doors this year. Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, reveals on her blog that millages are being redirected, taking taxpayers’ dollars through a loophole and out the door.

So as the “big-box” bookstores close their doors and companies begin liquidating, I wonder if people will notice, or care. Mitch Albom criticizes our generation for failing to “snap up the latest great read – unless there’s a certain vampire or wizard attached.” An Associated Press article also points a finger “to a new generation of readers who’d rather browse on an electronic book or tablet computer than turn the page of a paperback.” Ouch.

I protest the dewy-eyed reminiscing that blames my age group — if anything, the blame ought to go to adult customers who switched allegiances. The demographic with the money to buy a product is the elder one. I also protest the assertion that Wattrick makes — that the bookseller’s bankruptcy is not “a blow to literature.”

This situation requires more than a lament about the loss of “magic” and deserves more than a cynical blow-off. Sentimentality will not save the printed word, and the symptoms caused by instant gratification should not be brushed aside. Enough people need to possess the correct civic priorities — I mean, really owning them. It’s not enough to have one’s heart in the right place — people need to put their dollars and ballots in the right place as well. This means taking the time to go to a bookstore instead of ordering on Amazon and spending money on actual books instead of electrons.

Vanessa can be reached at vanrych@umich.edu.

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