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Give me the real bookstores

Posted: October 1, 2010 11:26 a.m.
Updated: October 1, 2010 11:27 a.m.

The printed page is disappearing as we speak.

Literally.

Urban newspapers are losing their readers at a dizzying pace as young people obtain their news and features on the Internet. Magazines are going belly-up by the dozens, falling victim to the economy and an on-the-go society that finds people spending less and less time sitting in an easy chair with a reading lamp on.

And now, with electronic reading devices such as the Kindle and Nook battling for a bigger share of the book market, statistics indicate that readers -- even those who love everything about books -- are shifting to e-devices faster than anyone had predicted.

Barnes & Noble, the nation’s biggest bookseller, announced recently it will close its upper west side store in New York, located within spitting distance of Central Park. The entire chain, with 720 stores, is struggling for air and has put itself up for sale.

Established brick-and-mortar bookstores are facing a tough road, and Barnes & Noble, among others, has been unable to compete with an aggressive Amazon.com site in selling electronic books, which cost only a fraction of what traditional print copies do.

I suppose that at some point I’ll give in to Kindlemania, but for now I’m sticking to old-fashioned hardcovers, along with bookstores that aren’t tainted by even a hint of electronic wizardry.

My favorite is Sherman’s, located on the Maine island where Wife Nancy and I spend time.

It sells other items, too -- greeting cards, novelties, puzzles and toys -- but at its heart Sherman’s is a bookstore. And a darned good one.

You’ll find none of those wide aisles and smooth carpets like you find at a megaseller like Barnes & Noble, and God forbid the thought of a Starbucks in the corner.

Sherman’s is small and cramped and slightly noisy, just the way a bookstore should be. Bill Sherman started selling books back in 1886, I’m told, and in some ways the store is little different than it was then.

The floors are scuffed, the aisles narrow, and the signs simple: “Sherman’s Recommendations,” for instance. No way to misinterpret that.

It smells the way a bookstore is supposed to smell, like ink and paper and all that bookbinders’ glue that holds those millions of pages together.

And unlike many of the big-box stores, you’ll find the same people behind the counter in Sherman’s day after day, and often year after year: friendly, courteous, and always ready with a comment about a particular book.

Sherman’s has an advantage over some other bookstores in that it’s located in a town frequented by tourists on vacation. Hey, people like to read when they’re away from work, and Sherman’s appeals to their every instinct.

The front windows are crammed cheek-to-jowl with interesting titles intended to lure people into the store. And once they’re inside, customers are bombarded with choices -- history and fiction and cooking and books of photographs -- all deposited in a space so small that Amazon would snicker about it.

Unlike Barnes and Nobles in New York, with its four stories of space, Sherman’s has only one, and the aisles are so small that you have to create your own pathway -- and get out of the way of other shoppers who are doing the same thing. But nearly everyone’s courteous despite the jostling, for they’re all there with the same purpose: to find a good read.

Wife Nancy has a Kindle, and she loves it. But she’s also a Sherman’s habitue, and she comes away from her visits there with more than her share of good, old-fashioned hardcovers.

I try not to be a Luddite, standing in the way of progress, though I sometimes still mourn my old Smith-Corona portable typewriter.  And I suppose I’ll eventually buy an e-reader device. But even if I do, my heart will still belong to books that you can feel, that you can smell, that you can savor in every way, including simply admiring their dust covers.

Yes, Amazon’s nifty in a lot of ways, but give me the real bookstores of the world, the literary crannies of this earth. There’s no substitute for a store like Sherman’s -- even a Kindle.

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