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| Arts and Culture |

The Death of the Book

“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

By Traci Garling Lee It’s dark inside Little Old Bookshop.

Maybe it’s the result of the setting sun and dim streetlights on Greenleaf Avenue in Whittier, California, but I don’t mean literally, pitch-black dark. It just feels dark. Creak, creak, creeeeak. Creaky floorboards, everywhere I step. It’s like a damn minefield. It wouldn’t feel so awkward if there were more people in the store, but it’s practically empty. Along the sides of shelves are framed newspaper clippings and old advertisements proclaiming the former glory days of the big Little store. Every used bookstore seems to have a wall of fame like this that brings passers-by back to a time before the digital age wiped out the craving for physical books. As I stare, the creaky floorboards around me fall silent. Nobody is moving. It’s as if the funeral parlor has come to a standstill. Time to close the coffin and begin our eulogy: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say our goodbyes to an old friend. Though none of us ever thought we would ever see the day when this faithful and stalwart comrade would exit our lives, we must learn to accept this tragedy so that we may learn to move on. Today, we mourn the death of the printed book.

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With globalization fueled by various expanding digital advancements, the world once thought to be unimaginably difficult to discover is rapidly shrinking. We know more about the other side of the world now than explorers and dreamers of the sixteenth century could ever hope to know. Back then, people could only rely on Marco Polo’s accounts of China to envision the eastern land; nowadays, not only can you travel there yourself, you can see China through a computer screen. There is no need for eloquent descriptions and painted pictures anymore. As we watch our world progress in terms of technology and communication, we have sacrificed what was once considered precious to the majority. Books are disappearing at an alarming rate, flying off the shelves, not into readers’ hands but rather, out of existence entirely. Instead, the book has been reincarnated in a new form – the digital book. In 2005, Sony introduced the LIBRIé to the Japanese market, igniting a competition amongst companies to produce the definitive e-book reader. Amazon stepped up to the plate in 2007 with its first version of the Kindle, which is now considered to be the most popular e-book reader of the decade. On Christmas Day 2009, Amazon sold more digital books for the Kindle than physical books. But Gilliane Richardson remembers a time before people were unwrapping Kindles from under the Christmas tree. Gilliane, a third-year European Studies major, is a Student Assistant at Langson Library whose passion for literature is evident with one single glance at her apartment, which is littered with books on her “To Read” list. “I’m always bringing home books from the library,” she admits. But it’s a habit she has no desire to break.

“I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember,” she says. When Gilliane thinks of reading, she recalls libraries and Reading Rainbow, the PBS show that inspired her love of reading. Her earliest memory of the public library is of her running through aisles and aisles of stacks as a child, stopping only to pick up a book that caught her eye. “Hey Mom, can I take this?” she asked, showing her mother the book. After a few minutes of flipping through the pages, her mother agreed and the door to the world of literature was thrown wide open. The book was The Dark Half by Stephen King, whom Gilliane lists as one of her favorite authors to this day. “My mom never put a cap on what I read,” she says gratefully. For Gilliane, libraries and used bookstores represent a familiar childhood that she fears youths of today’s technologically based society will not have the privilege to experience. But she’s hopeful that physical books won’t become completely extinct. “There are still a small portion of people like me who do still like the textual books or who don’t want to have to screw around with the technology,” she says. “But it’s sad that books are being phased out.” The latest incarnation of the Kindle allows users to directly download digital books from It even has the capability to read books, magazines and newspapers out loud to you. With these additions, the Kindle appears to be on the track towards becoming a handheld media center, which is not surprising considering the evolution of libraries in the twenty-first century. In September 2009 in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Cushing Academy announced plans to turn their old library, the former home of 20,000+ books, into a “digital learning center.” Shelves and stacks would be replaced with large flat-screen TVs, study areas would be made more laptopfriendly and the library reference desk would become a coffee shop that includes a $12,000 cappuccino machine. But the Cushing administration does not plan on eliminating books entirely; they’ll still exist — just in digital form. “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ says James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing. Gilliane scoffs at that notion. “I don’t think those are considered libraries anymore. They’re media centers. They shouldn’t be called a library.” The transformation of libraries into entertainment centers is robbing today’s generation of the beauty of the written word. The majority of children in today’s world seem to prefer watching a movie or playing video games rather than reading a book, which is something Gilliane blames on today’s culture. “Literacy rates in America are pretty poor, which is a shame. I mean, if we’re supposed to be the ‘supreme country of the world’ right now, yet our education system is tanking and now our people can’t read beyond a fourth-grade reading level…” She pauses and shakes her head. “That is horrendous.”

“Tolkien spent ninety-five pages describing Bilbo’s birthday party,” she continues, adding to her building rant. “Nowadays, we don’t have that kind of description. We’re almost losing our ability to imagine. “ “Tolkien spent ninety-five pages describing Bilbo’s birthday party,” she continues, adding to her building rant. “Nowadays, we don’t have that kind of description. We’re almost losing our ability to imagine. We’re getting so ignorant or lazy that we just want a picture.” Gilliane is not alone in her frustrations, but the sad truth is that she is certainly fighting a losing battle. Bookstores are disappearing (Laredo, Texas recently closed its last B.Dalton, making it one of the largest cities in the country without a bookstore) and the competition between e-book readers is rising. Among the competitors is the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Sony Reader and Apple’s recently released iPad, which includes access to Apple’s iBookstore and your own personal 3D virtual bookshelf to satisfy your reading needs. It operates essentially like iTunes does for music, except for books. It looks like there really is an app for everything. The death of the book, then, seems to be inevitable. What should we fear will come next? The sound of a book falling over on its shelf jolts me back to reality. I reach to help it stand upright again. Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Oh, if only he knew what this world has become. This can’t be the end of the road for the thousands of books shelved in the Little Old Bookstore. They deserve more than spending the remainder of their lives on dusty old shelves. But maybe I’m naive. I can’t save them all. It’s nearing closing time. My roommate and I get in her car and leave historic Whittier and that sad, neglected bookstore. We head home towards Irvine with one last-ditch effort to find a used bookstore we could run to in our time of much-needed comfort. The Internet said we’d find solace north of Irvine in Tustin, California at Brindles Bookstore. We drive past a brightly lit Ralph’s, pull into the parking lot and look around. The GPS said we had arrived at our location. Our eyes follow the numbers atop a row of establishments. 510…512…And there it is, at 514 E 1st Street, where Brindles Bookstore should’ve stood, a place that reaffirms my tragic discovery in the death of the printed novel: It’s now a T-Shirts & More store.

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The Death of the Book  
The Death of the Book  

INCITE Magazine - Spring 2010