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Posted at 08:27 AM ET, 11/30/2011

Nook guilt

I was brainstorming with a colleague about how I might track down a certain Ron Paul book, because, as you may have heard, I’m working on a Ron Paul story. There was much talk about various libraries that we could contact, or bookstores we could visit. Or we could order it from Amazon, though that would take a couple of days. But then the colleague said: Wait, we can just download it on the Nook.

We have a Nook, apparently. And lo and behold, in the time it took me to visit the water fountain, my colleague had obtained the aforereferenced book and it was right there on this little tablet doohickey.

Now, I see a major flaw with the Nook, which is that I can’t figure out how to dog-ear the pages when I come across a particularly important sentence that I need to reference later. Also, when I have a real book, I can stick it on a shelf in the attic and every seven or eight years look at it for a few seconds and think, “I’ll never read that piece of drivel again,” whereas you can’t have those kinds of moments so easily with an e-book.

But the big problem is that I’m not sure what this is going to do to the bookstores. I like bookstores. In fact, bookstores are among the things I like most in life. I worry they’re going to vanish, killed by the Internet. And I don’t think they’ll vanish because a better mousetrap has been built. I think this is not creative destruction but just destructive destruction. To take it a step further: Just because a technology comes along and makes something obsolete doesn’t mean that something was inferior or shouldn’t have survived. (I type this fully aware that when they extract me from my cubicle I will be replaced by a reporter manufactured by Toshiba.)

A while back you may have come across the bacon-taped-to-cats kerfuffle. One of the principle antagonists, a young bloggery person, wrote on this site that “Journalism, particularly newspapers, have been fleecing America for decades and the bill has come due.” And stuff like that. Apparently all those years we were paying 25 cents for the Post we were getting ripped off. But don’t get me started. The gist was: The Internet is saving journalism, which had “withered on the vine.” The writer declared (and yes, the grammar is clanging on my ear the same way it clangs on yours): “When any company loses their competitive edge, they are wiped from the planet by those who better understand and better fit the needs of their customers.”

So are newspapers struggling because they deserve to die? Would you be happier if newspapers disappeared? Would your community be better served?

If it’s true of newspapers, then surely it’s true of bookstores. These bookstores have been ripping us off!

In the time I’ve been in Washington I’ve seen one bookstore after another close. Suddenly I can no longer make a midday stroll to a bookstore. I count at least six bookstores within a short walk of the Post that have closed. Kramerbooks is still hanging in there at Dupont Circle, as is Books-a-Million, and up the road a ways is the estimable Politics & Prose, but all of the Olson’s bookstores and all the Borders stores are gone, along with Chapters and many others. I keep hearing that Barnes & Noble is closing its Georgetown store. It’ll be replaced, presumably, by another brand-name clothing store.

Is that the cityscape you want — more places to buy jeans and not a bookstore to be found for miles?

So I’ll read this book on the Nook, but I feel a little bit guilty about it. I’ll have to make it up to a bookstore somewhere, sometime. I’ll need to buy some literary offsets, or whatever you might call them.

By  |  08:27 AM ET, 11/30/2011

 
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