Once there were bookstores that only sold books. Nothing else, just books. Sound too bizarre? It wasn’t so long ago. Eventually the little bookstore market sales tanked, it just wasn't practical selling only books. They may have added magazines, periodicals and newspapers to their printed matter stock. Cigarettes and candy too. Even porn mags.
Bookstores still carried a selection of reading material but it grew into an assorted emporium hodgepodge of mixed-up consumerism. More about pop culture and less real literary pursuits. Books for “dummies,” romance, mystery, pulp fiction, history and all the rest. Like a spiritual hardware store for the mind, body and soul.
Books on tape, on records, all types of music for audiophiles like 33 1/3 LP records, 45's, 78 rpm's, cassettes, CD's, boxed set collector’s items, and even 8-track tapes. As for the cinevangelists, there're videos, DVD's, Blu-rays and even old movie reels. Going back to 1980s, maybe earlier, bookstores had to evolve or go out of business.
All is fair game from the big chain stores and online monopolies all the way down down to the little local neighborhood bookstore cafes that serve gourmet coffee and fancy sandwiches that have funny names. It’s perplexing. Exotic desserts and weird coffee beans from around the world; some even carry craft beer and wine selections. They regularly sponsor and support the traditional art shows, poetry and standard meet-the-author book signings. Books seem last to everything else that’s offered up to the masses.
These multi-purpose book nook cafes cater to an upscale clientele of gentrified hipsters and literary hustlers like myself. As diverse as beatniks, hippies, punks, poets, loners, retirees, nerds, DIY fanatics, computer geeks, gamers, lonely hearts, introverted art students and the few troubled writers sitting in the corner scribbling on a napkin. A sprinkling of bored housewives, horny jocks, the unemployed and just plain weirdos that frequent these trendy establishments too much. In search of free Wi-Fi, a bottomless cup of coffee and a hankering for information technology. Or the new pick-up spot.
Merely a safe haven to cruise the Internet, avoiding the cruel world outside the door. I've always loved bookstores, if not the people who frequent them. I preferred the solitude, peace and quiet of those dimly-lit halls in the old libraries. Built from granite and marble, these bastions of antiquarian architecture somehow stood the test of time.
Libraries, like bookstores, are usually quiet. A good example of this quiet can be found in public libraries where that sweet little old lady librarian shushes loud talkers with an index finger over her lips and the other hand pointing at the QUIET PLEASE sign next to the ancient broken wall clock. A scene out of an old movie or TV show. These giant mausoleums of dead literature hold the dusty antiquity of the ages rife with moldy paper and a musty scent of leather bound funky musk.
Thousands of neglected books go unread, lining the walls from floor to ceiling. Today the majority of these book repositories are filled with the homeless and destitute. Mainly because it's warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and they usually have hot water in the restrooms and a steady supply of toilet paper. An added bonus is that all the books are free with a library card, although a lot of people can’t get a library card without a valid address or identification. Many go for a quick fix and only check out the free DVDs.
As a kid, I read the classic boyhood adventures and fantastic science fiction journeys penned from the likes of Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London or Jules Verne. I cherished the encyclopedias with photos and illustrated color plates depicting the natural world. Reading books can be a psychic barometer to inner peace. They take us places and allow all to experience a multitude of emotions. The power of words on a page is undeniable. Possibly the driving force of all human interaction and knowledge. But you don't need book smarts or a formal education to survive. You don't even need to know how to read to be a good storyteller.
Stories are told and retold by the elders and passed on to the young. In this way we can learn from the past. Whether or not we do actually learn anything from the past or from repeated mistakes is debatable. Everyone loves a good story. Ideas about life and the world as we see it. Not necessarily the way it is but to change the story as we see fit. It may not meet the needs and purposes that jibe with your take on it all. Make it up as we go along, and be mindful where to look for power. It’s not at Walmart or Amazon.