The disappearing bookstore in the digital age

The impact of bookstores and why we must preserve them
By Joshua Sky  Published on 04/05/2018 at 2:44 PM EDT
Sierra Maciorowski

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” – Tyrion Lannister

Movie World is a bookstore in downtown Burbank. Its interiors are lined with thousands of paperbacks, glorious oversized movie posters, and random ephemera, like Modern Mechanix back issues from the 1940’s with captivating cover art depicting “gee-whiz” gadgetry. There’s little rhyme or reason to each section, and if you dig around long enough, you will find something you never knew you always wanted. But after being around for fifty years, the shop is closing its doors forever.

Movie World, Burbank, CA. Photo by Joshua Sky.

This isn’t the first bookshop in Los Angeles to recently close or announce closure. Just in January, the Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica quietly shut its doors for good. And the ever beloved Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard, a haven for comic book fans and creatives for the past 25 years, sailed into the sunset on March 30th. In the past few years a plethora of book stores around LA and the Valley, too many to list, silently died.

This is alarming, since these institutions are special spaces, capable of enriching lives and igniting imaginations. Bookstores, libraries, and even comic book shops have served as places of entertainment, education and refuge.

Bookshops transformed my life. When I was in Kindergarten, I had a poor reading and comprehension level.  My father wasn’t happy. And at night, he’d force me to stay up and read chapters out of my English text book until I passed out. In the third grade, I remember him getting so upset about bad marks that he tore up my comics. It wasn’t until I discovered R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, (corny, I know) at the local Waldens, a now-defunct company, that I began to enjoy reading. Something clicked: I stopped seeing words, and saw actual images when I read. I began to imagine, because I picked up the right book. That changed everything.

In the fifth grade I was kicked out of the reading aid program after the teacher caught me tearing through a Michael Crichton novel. By freshman year of high school, I’d gotten my first “real” job at the local library as a shelver. As a junior, I was placed in Honors British Literature. And at age 20, I realized I wanted to be a writer.  Recently, I landed my first TV writing assignment.

My passion for reading not only improved my life, but opened doors that would have otherwise been closed. And that passion was born and nurtured in the places where books could be found.

Today, I’m a bibliophile; I’m obsessed with reading and collecting books. I have this odd habit: although I already have shelves full of books that I haven’t even opened, I keep buying more hardcover books. The Japanese have a term for this, “Tsundoku.” No, it does not translate to “hoarder.” According to Wikipedia, it means to acquire reading materials and letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. I’m not sure why I keep buying. I think it has to do with never having an excuse to be bored, because I have more than I could ever possibly read. Or maybe, I just like having countless make-believe escape pods.  Perhaps I keep loading up on books, because I’m paranoid about running out of places to find them.

However, hope remains. For instance, in New York, the beloved bookstore Shakespeare & Company, which had been closed for years, was recently revived – and has transformed into a thriving chain across Manhattan. And even Amazon has opened brick and mortar bookstores, recognizing that being able to physically hold and select a book still resonates with customers.

I never believed that bookstores or libraries will become extinct, but current trends are provoking me to imagine a future where that does happen. So we need to protect and support these special spaces, where people come together to celebrate knowledge and the imagination like nowhere else. These places are magical – which is why we should never let them disappear.

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