Books? We ain’t got no stinkin’ books!

By Barbara Simpson

I admit it. I’m a book nut.

I love them and have since I was a kid.

I love browsing among them, handling them, reading them and keeping them.

I could read by age 3; going to the library with my mother was a regular pastime. As I got older, I went myself and browsed the shelves, each title stimulating my imagination. By seventh grade, I’d read every single science-fiction book they had!

When my family went to New York City, one of our favorite evening pastimes was to visit one of the massive bookstores such as the Strand, Scribner’s or Barnes and Noble.

Our whole family would split up, each going to their favorite sections until hunger or closing time got to us. It was wonderful, and we didn’t even have to buy anything! It was magical.

Books and reading have always been that to me, but the world has changed.

News reports this week told of the financial problems facing Barnes and Noble. It seems issues of bad management decisions, the growth of the Internet and technology and changing consumer choices have added up to a financial hit.

Several estimates are that by the end of the year, B&N may well be gone from the retail scene.

I remember when Borders went bankrupt in 2011. I felt as though a friend had died.

But it’s a bigger problem.

Used bookstores are disappearing too, at a record pace. Where I live, virtually every one, some which had been in business for decades, is gone.

And that affects another business.

A man who deals in used books told me last week that his business is fast disappearing. He buys books from estates and individuals, but now he has fewer and fewer places to sell them.

Schools and libraries don’t want them – they have limited shelf space, but in fact, many are converting “real” books to electronic books so shelf space isn’t needed.

My county library system last year had a gigantic book give-away. All the excess books from all the branches plus all the books donated to the library by citizens were available at one location over a weekend. Come and get ’em!  They were free. I resisted going.

After that, all were shredded.

It’s a tragedy and a reflection of dramatic cultural changes.

People are reading less; they’re too impatient to read a whole book; and those who do read are using electronic books so hard copies are useless to them.

These are probably the same people who prefer the Internet to the daily newspaper delivered to their home.

As a result, publishers are printing fewer books. In addition, the growth of print-on-demand as well as the ease of self-publishing are making actual hardcover books an anachronism.

Another trend making “real” books disappear is that schools are focusing on electronic books and eliminating real textbooks for students.

They read bowdlerized versions of classics and don’t know what they’re missing.

Ultimately, it means that the history and beauty of the written word and their meanings will be lost to the future. They won’t be able to read or write.

I began this piece with admitting my love of books, and there’s one other admission I have: One of the hardest things for me is getting rid of books.

Second to that is getting rid of magazines.

As you might surmise, one of the biggest challenges in my life is trying to keep my library from forcing me out of the house!

When I came to Northern California for my new job anchoring the news for KTVU-2, I arrived with 36 boxes of books to move into a lovely home that didn’t have a single bookcase!

I couldn’t imagine anyone having no bookcases, so I did something about it.

I had some built in my den and bought some freestanding ones for other rooms.

That worked for a while until, like Topsy, my collection grew. It didn’t help that later I worked for years in talk radio and had access to hundreds of new books and authors willing to be interviewed.

So I had more bookcases built and got more separate units.

Then I realized I’d reached the limit of the house so into the garage I went, but ultimately that had limits. After all I had to leave room for the car!

Eventually, books spilled out into halls, closets and piles adjacent to every bed!

I was, and am, surrounded with the printed word. Despite donations and some sales, I’ve realized that I’m drowning in books, whether I love them or not!

A friend told me years ago that he’s also a book lover. His solution was (and is) to keep a separate apartment just for his books!

I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

He told me his wife put her foot down about having hundreds of books in their house!

At the time, I thought a separate book apartment was silly.

I’ve changed my mind. I realize he’s absolutely right.

I’d do it too, if only I could afford it.

In the meantime, don’t trip on that book.

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