I spent more money than I should at Barnes and Noble last night, as I have been doing more and more recently, knowing this bookstore too is going to close shortly.
I feel like weeping, I really do. I will have to get on a highway just to find a bookstore. That place of solace, comfort and refuge I used to thrill taking with a demitasse of espresso will be miles away from where I live.
The other reason I feel like weeping is the realization that books and the art of reading and talking about literature may become defunct in my lifetime.
I'm so glad my mother, whose love of literature and writing inspired my own, didn't live to see this -- although, of course it didn't happen overnight. It's been decades since The New Canaan Book Shop closed its doors. It proudly displayed my mother's books, had a sophisticated selection, and its saleswomen were sharp as university profs. And it's been decades since the pink Remarkable Book Shop in nearby Westport with its slanted wood floors and endless nooks full of literary charms, closed. No, it's been part of the steady decimation of our culture, which, sad to say, will soon bypass language, art and conversation in favor of the most expedient message, the bottom line -- until we are all dots, as in a computer program.
You would think it's because nobody cares about books that B and N is closing, but that's not the case. The cashier at Buns and Noodles informed me that "every single customer has been telling me the same thing you are -- they're all upset."
Maybe all those customers weren't buyers all along as I have been. I've looked at book buying somewhat like supporting my favorite charity, for a few years now. Any time I go into a bookstore, I spend money. I buy espressos and desserts; I sit with magazines that I usually purchase. Inevitably, I buy at least one book.
What do we do with books anyway? It used to be that after reading one, I tossed it aside. After that, it would be open to lending, even getting lost. Once, after I had moved back to Connecticut from Ithaca, I went back to get my storage and found I had way too many books to lug back with me, even with the help of a friend. I got rid of the excess by setting the books in piles, according to category, around the Commons, hoping students and avid readers like me would pick them up eagerly, enjoying the surprise. In one stack were Plato and Nieszche. In another, Millet and Steinem. In yet another, collections of short stories and essays. There grew to be so many piles, I began to wonder if I might be arrested for a new form of littering.
I can't fathom giving away a book now. I am already treating them like collector's items.
Now, I read a book, and if I like it at all, place next to me on my nighttable, where it is likely to get a second read, and be perused at random.
And now I will lend favorite books to no one.
I've read Gabrielle Hamilton's exquisite and inspiring (for a writer) memoir: Blood, Bones and Butter at the Kitchen Table twice. And other books. Patti Smith's remarkable Just Kids is next for the second time around.
It's not as if I imagine that the writers whose works I read will know my private actions, know that I respect, value and appreciate their work. It's that I understand especially now how great literature really does open up spaces of knowing, care and intuition in one's being, and helps one to grow. I appreciate how magical literature is, and I want it always to be a part of my life, in whatever form.
What would we do without words, the art of them on a page? Even letters are beautiful to me, each one a caricature and a unique possibility.
I admired the quills on sale at Barnes and Noble last night, everything on a 30 percent discount. I thought, Wouldn't it be lovely to write with a quill, make calligraphy out of a story or a poem, make it look as precious as it really is? For, as we move forward into the future, it's possible, it really is, that we may forget to take note of who we are, may no longer care to leave traces of ourselves in letter forms to our children. It's possible, just possible that all that may remain of what I once loved, this mammoth, centuries old experience called literature may be symbols and short cuts, texts in a nonverbal and nonliterary age.