I am a writer. So, naturally, I am a reader.
I taught myself to read and devoured Ramona the Pest and the Little House books before kindergarten was over. My husband is impressed that if I like a book, I can plow through 500 pages in a weekend.
Like many people in Reston, I could spend many a day at Barnes & Noble and the late Books-A-Million browsing, flipping, reading and buying.
But lately? Not so much. I don't think I have made more than a handful of purchases in the last two years.
Much like music and news, books have become personal. We can pick the music we like and send it right to our phones and iPods. An entire library can be stored on an iPad. All you have to do is hit a search button and the name of that book that you heard about on NPR but were driving and couldn't write down the author's name comes right to you. One more click, and the book can come right to you, too. Heck, Siri could probably tell you what you are looking for.
Over the last few years, I have acquired a Nook (Barnes & Noble's e-reader) and an Amazon Prime subscription. The e-reader is great for impulse purchases. Search, click and read, even at 11 p.m. on a Saturday. Amazon is great for gift-sending to out-of-town relatives and bulk purchases. My son needed about eight novels for his 11th grade English class. Search and click — and Amazon could tell what else I needed based on the searches of others, no doubt parents of other FCPS students. The books arrived on my doorstep 24 hours later.
I suspect these tools have been life changing — or at least shopping changing — for many other people as well.
Yes, many still love the feel of a book in their hands, browsing pages, lovingly storing hardbacks on a shelf. Some people also no doubt loved the crackle an album made when you dropped the needle onto the turntable, the whir of a VCR tape rewinding or a trip to the video store to stock up for a snow day.
Sadly, bookstores might soon go the way of the video store and the record player.
Borders is no more, Books-a-Million has scaled back and Barnes & Noble is leaving The Spectrum, among other places nationwide — though they reconsidered in one market where they had just one store in a 100-mile radius or so.
What we have to remember is this: It's not personal; it's business. (That's also the motto of Tom Hanks' character, Joe Fox, when he tells children's book store owner Meg Ryan to fight for her store in the movie You've Got Mail. Very current for a 15-year-old movie, no?)
I don't know exactly what was in the lease that Lerner Enterprises wanted the Barnes & Noble to sign, but I do know the store says it wanted to come to terms. But are any bookstores thinking longterm these days? Retail leases are generally for 10 years or more. Can a bookstore look that far into the future when the future is financially shaky?
The Spectrum is also set for a major overhaul, building up, up, up like so much of Reston with more housing, retail and office space. Could they commit to sticking around through that when no one knows what the bottom line is going to be?
Restonians have generally greeted the Barnes & Noble news with disappointment. There is an online petition, as well as a elementary school student's petition asking the company to reconsider — or at least think of a new location.
Readers of Patch have chimed in with their thoughts on the site and on Reston Patch's Facebook page bemoaning the death of reading — or at least the death of browsing.
"I have spent many a rainy day there drinking coffee and looking at books," said one reader. "I take my preschooler to play with the trains. Where are we supposed to go when it is snowing or too cold?" says another.
Remember, it is business. Browsing with a latte is not a business plan. If everyone who was there to kill time (myself included) would have left with an armful of books (that they could have gotten cheaper online) or the toys and gifts the store sold (to improve its bottom line), bookstores like Barnes & Noble may be more confident in the future.
The Container Store lease is a done deal, but I wish activists the best in inspiring change. It can work. Read this recent Atlantic Monthly story about novelist Ann Patchett, who, after the Borders and another big bookstore closed in her town of Nashville, opened Parnassus Books — an independent bookstore (even though she knows it is a risky venture and startup costs were $300,000).
Patchett's store reminds me that perhaps — and it is a big perhaps — the big boxes leaving mean it may be time for independent stores to fill the need people still have for browsing, flipping, reading and latte drinking.
So, anyone have $300,000 to spare?