A few years ago, some publication’s end-of-year story had one of those lists of things that were ‘in’ and ‘out’ for the year to come. ‘In,’ it said, were bookstores. ‘Out,’ on the other hand, was actually reading books.
As we start 2012, it is clear that bookstores are now also on their way out. Many of us still enjoy visiting them, but each day brings new reports about their demise. Borders is now a memory, and this week in DC, the big Barnes & Noble in Georgetown shut down, and the next closure can’t be far off. More and more of us read books through electronic devices, or don’t read them at all. The latter is clearly a bad thing, but the former really isn’t (speaking as one who has lugged far too many actual books on far too many long plane trips). Like virtually every new technology, e-books come with upsides and downsides. Change is part of life.
It’s hardest of all for the small independent book shops to hang on. At first glance, this Washington Post story on the winding down of the Bookhouse, a shop in Arlington, Virginia, sounds like another recitation of this familiar story. But it’s really a love story.
The couple in question are the proprietors. As the husband searches for a book: ”Edward, 91, heads to the stairs. “They’re never where they should be,” says Natalie, 80, watching him begin the hunt. “Although sometimes they’re exactly where they should be.” ”
The couple have been running their tiny shop for almost 40 years. Originally she was a shopkeeper and he a customer. She was impressed by his taste in botany books, so she pursued him and married him. Doing the math, these crazy kids were in their 60s and 50s when they found each other.
And they’ve been a team ever since, running their tiny, eccentric respite from the world, from modern life. Which is one thing, among many, that books themselves can be.
It’s a sweet story, written beautifully by Dan Zak of the Post. Yes, it captures the genuine sadness in the disappearance of places like the Bookhouse. But it also celebrates the book, and all it has meant to these people, what it can still mean to any of us.
“Natalie’s still at the counter. The past 40 years — she would not trade places with anybody in the world. “Not anybody,” she says.
“The lovely solitude punctuated by a rare visit from someone from the outside, the hot pursuit of undervalued antiquity, the acquiring and cataloguing of history (in pages, not pixels), the final chapters of life filled with the tactile words of long-dead writers . . .”