The future of bookstores and the tactile pleasures of books


Strangely my initial thoughts about the “future” of books are almost always rather cynical – I instantly flash on images of myself as a child, breathing in the scent of a new book, lounging on the porch, luxuriating in that unmistakable rustling sound as I turn each page, or even that feeling of immense satisfaction when I underlined and starred a line that was somehow, in that moment, the answer I was seeking. Will this “future” world of books (a rather elusive category, isn’t it?) still allow these kinds of tactile memories that have played such an important role in an understanding of self and a love for the printed word? (emphasis on printed…)

Thinking about how people will find new books in the future necessarily makes me think about the future of bookstores. I adore the local independent bookstore (here in Tempe, that’s Changing Hands) and thinking about the changing landscape of publishing and the rise of digital books generally leads me to a dark place….will those bookstores become smooth Minority Report consumerist spaces in which I am identified as I walk through the door as a walking embodiment of my most recent purchases? An accent-less woman’s voice welcoming me to the store and asking me if I enjoyed the latest Paluhniuk? Will I be guided towards items that an algorithm has already decided I will enjoy rather than freely wandering through the aisles, pausing to run my fingers over a deliciously textured cover and stumbling upon a new author? I know that I don’t want to lose the feeling of strolling through that space, the scent of the books themselves, or the opportunity to chat with that one clerk whose encyclopedic knowledge is deserving of reverence. Maybe I’m too pessimistic.. maybe the future of books (and bookstores) will bring many new readers into the fold who do not find the local scene as romantic and endearing as I do… or maybe we’ll end up with a store bursting with poorly written self-published erotica and teen dystopias that lack the complexity and subtlety of those authors that may not make it into your algorithm..