A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Addyman Takes on the Enemy: Kindle

In late March, a wonderful antiquarian bookshop near my home closed its doors for good after being open for decades. I was extremely disappointed as I had spent many an afternoon browsing for good books. I felt I had lost an old friend. Apparently, the closing of the secondhand or antiquarian bookshop is becoming more common. It's a very sad state of affairs for a booklover like me.

Derek Addyman (center) with Kindle gravestone
One of my favorite haunts in England is Hay-On-Wye, the quaint (and premier) "booktown" in the world. Every year, at this this time, the famous Hay-On-Wye Book Festival takes place with talks given by many literary luminaries from across the world. I have to say that I have never come back from a trek to Hay without a huge load of books and some of them have been real treasures. Hay-on-Wye is a town built on the selling of secondhand books and antiquarian books which are a passion of mine. For me, coming to Hay-On-Wye more than a decade ago was the equivalent of going to Disneyland for a child. I was in book heaven. Each subsequent trip has had the same amount of excitement of "the hunt" for that obscure book, for that long-forgotten title that I might find at the bottom of a box. While at university and again for a bit after, I also worked as an independent bookseller and manager of bookshops. Even when the independent bookseller was in the majority (no Borders and no Barnes and Noble on every street corner) bookselling was a labour of love. It is even more so now. There is no doubt that the future of the physical book, and subsequently, the independent bookseller is in peril. And nowhere is this being felt than in the winding streets of Hay-On-Wye.

 One of the most gracious booksellers  in Hay is a friend, Derek Addyman and Derek had a few choice words to say at the opening of this year's festivities. Addyman owns three bookshops in the town. "Kindles have no place at this festival which is supposed to be a celebration of the written word--and books. Booksellers here definitely want them banned. You see people walking around with Kindles and they are like robots in another world." Addyman spoke out citing how five of the thirty independent bookshops (which have characterized the famous town) have had to close down with the advent of the electronic media. "Books are sociable," said Addyman "and people stop to talk to each other about them. Kindles are just a phase and they won't last. They are just our enemy."  Addyman has been a bookseller in Hay-On-Wye for over 25 years. He really is known as the patriarch of the book community. "Books are sexy, " he contends. " A Kindle is a screen, not a book and it is not sexy." Addyman led a parade with a gravestone marked "RIP" and a Kindle attached to it. 

I don't think I could have said it better. When I was a girl, I spent my summers holed up in the stacks of the local library because I loved books. I loved their colours, their smell and the way that the pages crinkled when I turned them. I travelled all over the world from that tiny town in the middle of nowhere and I dreamt of the day I would one day see the places I read about in person.  I see this same love for books in my daughter, who turned to me once when she was a child and said, "I love the way the pages of a Puffin book feel." That's how she still feels about old books despite the fact that she owns a Kindle. When I asked her about that, she said that it was a good "backup" and less cumbersome to take on vacation. But she agreed that as tech-savvy as she is, nothing would ever replace a real book. I have lived in many places and travelled to many more, and the first place I look for is a local independent bookshop or antiquarian bookshop.

 The one bit of silver in the dark biblio cloud for the shops in Hay-On-Wye and worldwide are that the antiquarian or out-of-print book is not readily available on Kindle. I won't even go into the "print on demand" antiquarian books which are simply ghastly.

Addyman is right, a Kindle isn't sexy. It's not even close.