Saturday afternoon, after lunch, wandering around the Village before wandering over to the theater to catch the play, we wandered into Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers and wandered out again, the blonde clutching a bag containing Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon.
But while we were inside we got to talking to one of the owners who responded to the blonde’s expressed admiration for her store with pride and gratitude and, as you might expect of any small business owner these days, a touch of anxiety about the economy. Partners & Crime is holding its own, she said, but she was worried they were starting to feel the pinch.
The store’s weathered the rise of Amazon and outlasted Borders. From the sidewalk out front you can look down Greenwich Avenue and see a Barnes and Noble.
But now come kindles, now come nooks.
The owner doesn’t get the attraction. She’s one of those readers, like me, like the blonde, like she’d hoped all her customers, for whom the love of reading is inseparable from a love of books, the printed on paper kind. To her there is nothing like a book, and nooks and kindles are nothing like a book.
They’re missing the feel of books. The blonde and I know what she means and we start trading things we like about books besides the words on the page. The weight and shape of a book in hand. The sound it makes as you open and shut it, the sound as it slides from a shelf or when you set it on the nightstand. The tickle of the page on your fingertip as you turn it. The smells, of paper, of glue, of ink, of dust. All the little sensual pleasures that most of us take for granted until we’re asked to defend our attachment to these old-fashioned and cumbersome blocks of wood pulp and which I suspect sound to kindle and nook owners like defenses of manure and flies by horse lovers talking to the first automobile owners, as far as the three of us are concerned, they’re as much a part of reading as the decoding of the ink splotches on the page.
The owner’s antipathy for ebooks isn’t simply due to aesthetics and sensory deprivation. Staring into computer screens isn’t her idea of fun and relaxation.
All day she’s staring into screens, ringing customers up, researching books and authors, placing and filling orders---you can shop Partners & Crime online---paying bills, dealing with email.
But her main objection is practical. Ebooks represent the enemy. A downloaded book is a book not bought in a store, her store. This is why she calls buying a nook or a kindle going over to the Dark Side.
The owners of Partners & Crime take pride in knowing the books in their store and in being able to make excellent recommendations. That means a lot of reading ahead, so to speak. Publishers and publicists help out by sending them advance copies and galleys of new books before they’re published. Lately, they’ve been getting “offers” of digital advance copies. “Just let us know what platform you prefer,” those doing the offering add brightly.
This amuses and exasperates the owner.
“Can you imagine what our customers would think,” she says, “If they came in here and saw us glued to a kindle?”