The Death of a Bookshop

title bookshop copy

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

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Too busy to read? Here’s how to make more time for reading in your day.

reblog reading This is a re-blog. To celebrate 6 months of ItchyQuill.com, here is the first post we ever did! Enjoy 😀

Haven’t finished a book since you graduated? Keep making excuses about not enough time and being too tired? Reading has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 68%, and it could lead to a significant reduction in your chances of developing dementia in later life, not to mention the advantages it gives you in terms of ability to communicate, understanding of new concepts and cultures, and countless other problem solving, intellectual and communicative advantages. Reading is an almost essential part of getting a higher wage and personal advancement, and yet nearly half of British and American adults no longer read for pleasure.

We’ve all been there. It could be that you are a lover of fiction, but every time you finish work you are too tired and would rather veg out in front of the TV/Netflix than get your nose in a novel. In the UK, nearly 4 million adults work 48 hours a week or more. Things such as this extended work schedule could be to blame, but reading is a fantastic use of your time, no matter who you are. If you are an up and coming exec, there are plenty of non-fiction tomes to rifle through for tips and information, and plenty of fiction to help you relate to other’s experiences or escape completely from the busy week. If you are a budding writer, there are tons of books to get you inspired. If you merely want to find another way to relax, fear not! There are myriad stories out there waiting for you to find them.

It’s ok world, itchy quill has your back!

1. Maximise your time (duh!)

The first thing to consider is all that micro time you have. By this I mean the time that you have between other activities; the gaps and cracks in your schedule where minutes are not used to their full potential. It might be the ten minute bus ride to work, it could be the five minutes while the kettle boils in the morning, or it could even be the fifteen minutes on the loo. Who knows. But making a rough list of how your time is used during the day can give you an idea of where you can utilise your time better. On average, most of us have about 1.5-2 hours of micro time a day. That’s crazy, right?! Imagine if you spent an hour of that a day reading your book? If we assume that your reading speed is equal to the average, then you could read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in just over ten days using this method. Or, if you fancy something a little more contemporary, how about reading all three of the Hunger Games books in seventeen days? Using this otherwise redundant time is a great way to increase your reading. But trust me, it gets better.

But this is my thinking time

But when am I supposed to find time to wear my hats?

2. Leave yourself reminders

Some people are list people, some people are doers, some are just plain happy to wander through life confronting things as they arise. I am a bit of a memory jerking kind of person. This basically means I have to leave myself clues and visual prompts to remind me to do something. I like to leave a stack of unread books on my coffee table, so whenever I look at them they remind me that I should pick up my book and read. This works especially well with library books, as the challenge of trying to read them all before they are due back motivates me too. You could just as easily set a reminder on your phone, just like you would for a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. The biggest struggle for many of us is finding routine, and sometimes activities that are not habitual can be hard to make time for. To stop reading being another big plan that falls by the wayside, why not set goals, like finishing one book every fortnight (which translates to 24 books a year)? It’s easy, right?

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

3. Spread your interest

Scattiness can often be a problem for me. I have a mind that likes to race off on tangents, and my attention can be easily caught but, alas, easily lost also. I often keep two books or more on the go at once, normally of completely different style and genre so as to avoid confusing plotlines and characters. Some books, such as non-fiction, may be more suitable for the morning time, as they require a little more alertness to process, while a steady paced novel can be more suitable for pre-sleep reading. Don’t overload yourself though or you could lose track of what you have read. Speaking of which…

I really don't want to take these back tomorrow

Right, so Frodo killed Aslan with his horcrux. Got it.

4. Bookend your day

Make time to read when you wake up, and before bed. The benefits of reading before you sleep are well documented, the greatest in my opinion being the fact it forces you to put the day behind you and escape from cares or troubles, but it is what it stops you from doing that is more important. A lot of us are guilty of checking emails, Facebook and other social media and distraction apps like Buzzfeed and Instagram in the moments before sleep. Though it might seem fun to read these before we sleep, we are actually forcing ourselves to confront innate insecurities, worries and negative emotions in a time when we should be dumping the day’s detritus and preparing to reset. Reading forces your brain to train itself on a continuous narrative, not just a random assortment of scattered information, and this hypnotises us into a sleepy state, channelling all emotion and feeling into that of the characters we are reading about, and deflecting the minor antagonisms of the self.

There isn't a Playboy tucked behind this novel. This isn't Back to the Future

There isn’t a Playboy tucked behind this novel.

5. Arm yourself

Ok, not literally. By this I am of course saying that you should never been found wanting for something to read. I keep a book on me at all times, but I also have my kindle by my bed for am/pm reading, and a kindle reader on my phone in case I end up in some unforeseen circumstance where I cannot reach either of the former (such as a nuclear disaster or, more likely, a queue for a sandwich).

Say hello to my little friend

Say hello to my little friend

6. Join others

The internet is the greatest resource in the world for most things. One such area it exceeds in is uniting us with others of a similar mindset. There are countless websites dedicated to bringing together readers of a similar taste, where novels can be read at a pace everyone can follow and then reflected upon in open discussion. This gives you the polite pressure of needing to stay on pace so as not to fall behind, but also gives you the chance to discuss techniques and characters and really get to grips with the book you are reading. If you prefer to be a little less social, why not try an on line reading challenge? This gives you the deadline without the social aspect.

I can't even read but damn this whole book thing looks good on me

Chicks dig dudes who can read

7. Keep it interesting

I know we all wish we could finish the classics like War and Peace and Ulysses, but the truth is they aren’t fitting for everyone’s tastes. To really get into the habit of reading, and find the motivation to read at all, you need to be reading things that grab your attention. Make sure you seek out authors who write books that you are drawn to, or that you read non-fiction books about topics that actually mean something to you. I wish I could read up and become an expert in stocks to make a bit of money, but I have such little interest in how the system works that it would take me the best part of a century to finish the book.

Equally, you should stick to books that are of a length that won’t scare you off. Start small, and work your way up. Challenge yourself, sure, but be aware of your own attention span. You may discover a fantastic Russian author from the turn of the century, whose 1,000 page epic fully explores the state of humanity and the notion of the self, but will you be satisfied chipping away at it in fifteen minutes slots over the course of three months until you finish it?

John snow did whaaaat?

John Snow did whaaaat?

8. Practise speed reading

This is a much easier skill to pick up than many realise, and even a little practise can increase your reading speed significantly. Are you willing to put in the time to practise, however? When studying at college, speed reading was the only way to finish the tremendous amount of titles we were expected to read. In my first semester alone I read around 30 novels in six weeks. When I graduated, I made a promise to myself to relax more and take my time with reading to fully immerse myself in the text. For some, this is what reading is about. It is not the desire to finish as many books as possible, but to enjoy the escapism and journey of a story. It is important to remember this. It is also crucial to remember that even though it can be a lovely feeling to finish a hundred books a year, it is even more fun to be able to discuss them and remember them. Never sacrifice your understanding for speed, or they will merely become titles and summaries, and you will miss the very point of reading in the first place, and gain nothing. Over time, you will naturally get faster, so just stick to a pace that you are comfortable with.

It's supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

It’s supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

That said, there are currently apps in development that could increase the world’s reading speed by as much as 600%! In theory this should increase our ability to fully digest books and by extension, information. Whatever happens, starting reading today can greatly enrich your life. Words, and their use in the hands of authors, can be powerful in many ways. Don’t let yourself miss out on these experiences.

Now, no more excuses. It’s time to get yourself a book, figure out what works for you, and get reading. Enjoy!

Special thanks to adamr, Goldy, marin, duron123, photostock  and imagerymajestic @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015