The Decline of American bookstores Who will speak for the books?

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While we Shakespeare geeks celebrated his birthday yesterday, the reading world celebrated World Book Day. For several years now, the host, National Book Tokens stresses the importance of sharing books with children by dedicating a day to books. World Book Day is an event designed to remind parents and teachers the importance of raising children who read. There is never anything wrong with that.

When I see mentions of World Book Day, I am reminded of the hours I spent at bookstores with my son. I was one of those parents who started my child down the reading path at an early age. I can recall taking Alex to his first bookstore for reading time when he was only two. If memories serves, we came home with The Very Hungry Caterpillar .

By the age of nine, Alex was bored of children’s books. I took him to our local bookstore to see what was available for his reading level. This was right before Amazon became the leading source for books. Even if Amazon and the Internet were available to me I wouldn’t have known where to start.

The store owner was an older woman who was childless but never the less well acquainted to what kids liked. She pulled a large book down and said this was something the kids loved. She struggled to keep it in stock. She thought Alex might enjoy it based on the feedback she got from other children. I thought it might be too advanced for him, and far too long. But he sat down in a corner and started reading. A few pages in, he looked up and whispered, “Mom, I want this book”. Alex had fallen under the spell of Harry Potter.

All of this are just memories now. Alex is now 23 and doesn’t need me to take him to bookstores anymore. Besides, even if I wanted to, I can’t. Carson City Nevada, population 55,552 doesn’t have a bookstore. The closest one, Barns and Noble is over 30 miles away. What a sad comment on our society.

So what does this do to our reading society at large? Does it make a difference that we are forced to shop online or plan a day to travel to the next town over? Is the decline in the number of bookstores in America affecting reading?

There is a definite decline in reading in America. While reports and findings differ, one thing can be agreed upon; the number of kids who read is declining. One report suggests that social media and video games are to blame. Teenagers are more apt to spend time on their smart phones and computers, engaging with each other, sharing YouTube videos, and of course, playing the latest game. It sounds like common sense to say that these distractions are reason enough to avoid reading, but common sense also tells us that historically we’ve always had distractions. Going to the beach with my friends was a favorite pastime for me as a teen, but this didn’t dampen my love of reading. So if it isn’t distractions, what is it? If it’s not social media and technology, could we look to parents as the possible answer?

One of the fallouts of the decline of bookstores can be found in the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind”. When there are no local bookstores (sadly this is becoming the norm in towns across America) parents tend to forget about books. This fact has become painfully clear to me in the complaints I hear from my co-workers.

I don’t know what to get Karen for her birthday. What about a book? My grandson is turning five, what should I get him? What about a book? My daughter broke her leg and is home bored. What should I do? May I suggest giving her a book? At this point I’m like the Lorax, but instead of jumping up and down yelling, “I will speak for the trees?” I am trying to speak for books. And the looks and responses I get are chilling and have a lot to say about the decline of the bookstores over the last decade. Parents have lost interest in sharing books with their kids. One said dismissively, “Oh if she wants a book she can go to her school library”. Another told me since we lost our bookstore, it never occurred to her to buy books as gifts. Have parents forgotten it is their job to foster a love of books in their children?

I can’t blame some of the parents. Without a bookstore it is hard to figure out what a child would like. Hell, sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out what’s out there, and I make a point of trying. Yes the Internet if full of recommendations, yet with all the noise it’s hard to find something worth reading. I miss the quiet bookstore aisle in which one can get lost for hours. Picking up a book beats reading an Amazon review hands down. Having a knowledgeable bookstore clerk was a gift. Don’t know what t read? Ask a live person for a recommendation. Chances are you’d walk out with three new titles.

Once it was so easy to think, “I’ll just pop into the store to see what’s new”. Now we have to sift through reviews, click bait, and scroll through pages just to find a book. Who, besides avid readers has time for this? No wonder parents have forgotten all about books. For many, not only are bookstores gone, so is the desire to read. And this, it seems is being past down to our children. No wonder they turn to other avenues of entertainment. To the kids, there is no other choice.

None of this proves the decline of bookstores is the true reason teens are not reading like they used to. But given that more and more parents are forgetting about books, it certainly is a contributing factor.

Decline in Reading in the US http://connection.ebscohost.com/literature/literacy/decline-reading-us

Why aren’t teens reading like they used to? http://www.npr.org/2014/05/12/311111701/why-arent-teens-reading-like-they-used-to

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

6 thoughts on “The Decline of American bookstores Who will speak for the books?”

  1. I hesitate to ‘like’ this awful situation (‘I do not like it, Sam I Am’) except that it’s a point very worth making, Sari. That Neil Gaiman extract I quoted in a recent post is apposite to Carson City and its sadly several doppelgangers worldwide. There’s a kind of intellectual anti-evolution going on, a devolution if you will; who knows where it will end?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I shudder to think where this is going. It is so sad. Even the local library is quiet. I don’t see kids running around excitedly anymore. Of course, they may all be up in the “media center” playing on the computers.

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  2. I’m lucky in that my mom and I read together when I was a kid. My dad took me to libraries, and we would go to book sales as well. It was a whole new world. Nowadays, I still read regularly, though I do go through lulls occasionally. I can’t imagine life without regular bookstore trips.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have no idea how jealous I get when you and Bobby talk about going to the bookstore 🙂
      Good on your parents for fostering your love of books. You turned to be one smart guy!

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  3. I’m happy to say there’s one independent bookstore only a 15 minute walk from home. I’ve given my niece and nephews books at times, though I must admit that most such gifts have not been successful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear about the gifts. While it is hard to figure out what someone else will read, it is important to keep trying.
      Some day I will move and one of things I will look for is a town in a couple of independent bookstores.

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