It’s a sad truth about the world we live in that the beautiful bookshop is slowly becoming a thing of the past. It is going the way of Woolworths and Blockbuster, totems of times gone by and technologies redundant.
If it hadn’t been for a combination of the library and of local independent bookshops I would never have developed the love of reading that I have. Even as a young child I’d enjoy running my finger along the spines, imagining the adventures and wonders within. I’d scan the covers in the crime section and immerse myself in the names and titles, then duck into the fantasy aisle to assess the latest dragon/knight/princess story.
Doing it online just doesn’t have the same appeal.
I’m no technophobe mind. In fact, I love my Kindle reader and I’ve filled it with some of my favourite books. But you can’t beat the feel of a worn paperback, especially one you picked up from a local second hand bookshop at a steal. I loved going into a shop and not knowing what I was going to come out with. I’d then spend hours lost in words, until I emerged from the temple of books with a new scripture under my arm; a baptism back into life with a key in my possession to unlock some new realm.
Living in Taipei, there isn’t a huge range of English language bookshops for me to explore. Don’t get me wrong, we have a fair amount, but there obviously isn’t the same wealth of options as I had back home. When you do find a shop you love, its value becomes magnified.
Recently one of the larger shops has finally closed down after months of discounts and clearance sales. I’m not complaining too heavily at this point as I, like many, have been picking the carcass absolutely clean and benefiting from absorbing a small army of new books into my personal library and saving the equivalent of a king’s ransom. For the short-term, its closing has been something to enjoy. Longer-term though, I can already see a huge whole in my reading experience.
Every time I’ve been in there, I’ve tried to savour the experience as I know it is not something that I will have for much longer. It’s hard though. The once packed shelves, so densely lined with books on every subject, are now just discount bins where books have been shoved and trapped, penned in and away from the world they want to be part of. They are calling out for a new home, like puppies in a pet shop. The once calm ambiance that I found so intoxicating is now filled with the faint hum of discount shoppers, and greats such as Tolkien, Wodehouse and Vonnegut find themselves shoehorned into the same sections as Meyer and E. L. James.
In the end, death can be ugly.
The shop in question had a good life. It opened in 2004 in the (at that time) recently finished Taipei 101 mall. It’s scale was massive, offering a variety of English language books unparalleled in Taiwan. Everything from art and design to history could be found, all sitting in a stylish and comforting space that drew you in and kept you browsing for hours on end. I have spent many delightful evenings getting lost in fiction, perusing the wonderment on the shelves.
Now it’s all gone.
That’s the nature of the world we live in. Books are not cheap, and electronic ones are cheaper. Some people don’t have the time to browse for books any more, and instead rely on being able to order them from the internet. Some just don’t have the time to read at all. How can anything work against market forces? In the end, the world keeps turning and new competitors come in to replace the old ones. It’s the circle of life, Simba.
For those of us that love the bookshop, I guess we are destined to watch our close friends close down, one at a time, as we age into a world where books and reading try to adapt with the times, and we try to adapt with them.
Like the VHS, the Beatamaxx and the SNES, are books finally having their day? Only time will tell. We had best enjoy them, and their homes around the world, for as long as we can.
So long Page One, you’ve been great.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015