Death and/or Transformation; I Cannot Tell

I read a few days ago that Dreamhaven, a Minneapolis bookstore specializing in speculative fiction, will be closing its doors in a few months, after three-plus decades in business.

I’ve been there probably fewer than half a dozen times, as I am not a resident of the Twin Cities, so I guess the closing doesn’t affect me.

And yet, I can’t help thinking about it.

Here in my suburban Southern California corner of the world, independent bookstores are a rare breed. I’ve gotten used to it. We used to have a some general interest, small shops, but most have been gone for years. It’s Orange County, California, for heaven’s sake; can I expect any different? But Minneapolis, sophisticated, cosmopolitan metropolitan area–well, I hoped for more.

Proprietor Greg Ketter gives his reasons at Dreamhaven’s website, below.

http://dreamhavenbooks.com/

He does not whine; he does partially blame ebooks, if “blame” is the right word. Maybe it’s not a matter of blame; maybe it’s only a matter of transformation. The mention of ebooks makes me twinge, however, because, for the first time, I sense technology is taking something from us.

So far, I’m all good with changes in entertainment technology. I do not long for vinyl records or non-digital transmissions. I do not feel that computer screens ruin our brains. I love that I can listen to radio shows from anywhere in the country on podcasts, find any (just about) movie or TV show online, and any (just about) song ever recorded for purchase. I like ebooks. Like, not love. There are a couple problems with ebooks. You can’t easily lend it to a friend or family member. You can’t mark it up or underline favorite parts. And it makes the brick and mortar bookstore pretty much obsolete.

A decade ago, I published a story called “Heaven,” in Tales of  the Unanticipated, in which my protagonist, an adamantly anti-religion atheist, dies, and finds himself in heaven. He awakens from dying to find himself in a rowboat in the middle of a lake, with Jesus walking across the water toward him. He is not filled with joy at this turn of events, for this guy hates being wrong about anything, and he is thoroughly pissed-off at being wrong about there being an afterlife, even though this afterlife turned out to be everything he would hope for.

You see, he had previously contemplated what he would want heaven to be, were there such a place, and what he wanted was for heaven to be an atmospheric seaside village (upscale, of course), dotted with a variety of gourmet restaurants, and at least one interesting bookstore. That is exactly where he landed. He got that vision of heaven from me, his author.

Once upon a time, long ago, my husband and I enjoyed an interesting bookstore near a couple interesting restaurants we frequented. Friday nights was when it happened. We’d have an Indian, or Mexican, or Italian meal, and after dinner, we would go to the bookstore, which was called Upstart Crow.

It was a small shop, and it had only a smattering of science fiction and fantasy, leaning instead a bit toward lit-fic. I don’t remember seeing the typical bestsellers there though; had the shop survived to present times I doubt you’d ever see a book authored by Sarah or Bristol Palin there. We always bought something. I don’t remember many of the titles, but I do remember the feeling, the wonderful, tactile experience of picking up a beautiful trade paperback, bringing it home, and opening its pages. The anticipation was delicious, as was the sense of discovery–heck, even the possibility of discovery. The delightful randomness of it all.

The difficulty of discovery may be what I find most lacking in the ebook experience. If you know what you want, no problem, just type it in. If you want to browse, though, you’re in trouble. Bestsellers, Top Featured, People Who Bought This Also Bought That. Boring. I want them to show me something neither they nor I know I want, but which might, just might be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen.

Oddly, this whole If You Like This Maybe You’ll Like That approach is working for me in music, television, and movies far better than it is for books. Amazon, I’m sorry, but your Suggestions For Martha are pathetic. In every area except for books, the technological changes feel like pure transformation, with little to mourn. With printed books, however, I feel a death has occurred.

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