the smell of books: a nail in your bookstore coffin

SPOILERS: THIS IS A RANT. TURN BACK, AHAB!

Right. That’s it. I’m putting a nail in your bookstore coffin. I just read an article and it made me want to vomit (Are people not reading now that ebooks have become popular?). I’m really over the whole nostalgia thing for bookstores.

As someone who reads more than 2-3 books every single week, I feel pretty comfortable with wading into this stupid frikken argument with my size 8 shoes and stomping some heads. Forget my hopeful writing career. Forget that. This is about the reader in me. The person who grew up scrounging bookstores and secondhand bookstores alike.

So, I have to ask: is this kind of vomit-inducing article really necessary? It makes out that bookstores are dying because literature is dying. That Amazon, iTunes, battleshipped Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other ebook sites have destroyed literature. Literature. And according to articles like this, a book’s quality is defined not by its words but its smell. As though the stink of a book is its sole defining quality. And that’s just blatant bullshit. A book is defined by its words. Marketed, perhaps, by its cover. But defined entirely by its words.

Are people not reading now that ebooks have become popular? There. Right there. Did you see that? Ebooks have become popular. Which means, people are turning away from paperback and looking at their tablets or Kindles. Why? Because they’re sick of good stories? Because they’re tired of literature? Because they've devolved and can no longer read? No, you dunderhead. They’re looking for more convenience is all. Us readers are like that, you know. If we weren’t, we’d still be reading off clay tablets, because everyone knows you can’t beat the smell of clay.

You don’t believe me?

Well, just look here to your right. There’s a screenshot stolen from Amazon which shows just how many ebooks are out in every genre. Look at my favourite, Scifi and Fantasy. Look at that. There are 228 THOUSAND ebooks in this genre alone. 228 thousand. Let that sink in. How many Scifi and Fantasy books do you ever see in your local bookshop? If you’re lucky, you’ll see a hundred. Maybe a few hundred. Got a specialist shop? Couple of thousand. But you show me a fantasy bookstore with 228 frikken thousand books in it. Show me. THAT’S why we’re looking away from bookstores! There’s more convenience in carrying the device and more variety in the actual stories.

And now you’re opening your publisher-backed mouth to tell me some rubbish about quality and true literature and Traditional Publishers being gatekeepers of Gozer or somesuch nonsense just because they prefer to be called "traditional". You want to know another word for "traditional"? Boring. Or, old. Next they'll be telling me all their published writers write their books on genuine 1920s typewriters.

Now, look at the image to your left. Look. See? That shows you in the Fantasy genre alone, how ebooks were rated by those who read them. Look at it. Keep in mind, those are averages. Not the review, but the average per title. Which means there’s 95 THOUSAND Fantasy novels considered greater than 4 stars. That’s STILL more than you’ll find in any bookstore.

You’re about to say the sheer volume of titles proves it's all rubbish. Ever heard of pulp? Of course a lot of it is rubbish! But, so what? Some people like reading mindless trash. I hear romance novels sell by the bucket. And some people enjoy stories so far stuck up a genre that they practically bleed self-parody. So what? Not everyone likes the snobbery of Pulitzer winning books. Most of them made me yawn. And the ManBooker? Each book often came with free dust on it. I worked in bookstores for 12 years. I know what sells consistently and it’s not the high snobby literature you think it is, pal. It’s trash. Because we love escapism. We want to be transported to worlds unlike our own. We want and crave something new. Something fresh. Something different.

And, with 228 THOUSAND FRIKKEN books to choose from, I think I’m going to find one! It's time to face the cold hard facts. You walk into a bookshop and you’re faced with the same names as the last bookshop. Finding a new author is like finding a needle in a haystack. Sure, that never stops us looking. But it frustrates the hell out of me. With ebooks, I can spend all night sifting through author after author, reading the first chapter or two, and trying to find something fresh. Something new. Something astounding.

Some of it is complete rubbish to me, too. But out of the 228 THOUSAND Scifi and Fantasy novels, how many are going to blow my mind? Do you know? I don’t. I haven’t read them all. Yet. But I can tell you I’ve found dozens of new authors whose work has never seen paper. I’ve found authors whose creativity gives me an erection. Whose turn of phrase makes my panties drop. Whose imagery makes me shiver. Sure, they’ll never win any frikken award the salty-faced snobs obsess over, but they’ve won the biggest award they’ll get from me: my goddamned gratitude and awe. And if it weren’t for the rise of ebooks and the killing of bookstores and publishers, I never would’ve found them. Their gold would’ve remained locked away in the hills. But now it’s out. Now it’s being mined. Now I have so much to choose from and it’s making me giddy.

So, pick up your nostalgia for the smell of an old book and take it to the forest. Tell it to a trees you want to see cut down for the frikken satisfaction of having a book you put on your shelves which you probably don’t even read because you’re too busy sniffing its spine. Show your smelly library to your friends. I'm sure they think you're special. Me, I’m going to actually read a book. I’m going to find a great frikken story and I’m going to be entertained. I don't care 1 iota whether this author was published through a publisher or not. I won’t care 1 frikken molecule whether it got printed on a dead tree or not. All I’m going to care about is: did I fucking enjoy it? That’s it.

If you still think a book is somehow made better for having been printed through a publisher on a slab of dead tree with a broken spine and collecting dust, then go outside into the rain, emo pal. Find your favourite romantic-looking bookshop. And stand there. Look in through the wet window. You don’t see the underpaid staff at the counter wishing they had a better frikken job because the owners don’t pay them shit and they’ll never be able to afford more than simple frikken luxuries. You look at them and see the most romantic job on earth.

And with that kind of fantasy life, you should write your own books. Publish them on Amazon. There's a market for that, if you don't use paper.

End rant.

- published 10/07/2015

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