I have always loved bookstores. How it feels to be among hundreds, if not thousands or millions (as in very big stores) of books arranged inside various stacks, waiting to be picked. There is a magical dimness and smell between the racks that can only be felt by the real lover of books. When I was in college I used to spend a major chunk of my time in the library, although during those days the only books I used contained mathematical problems. Now that I think of it, it’s a pity that I never really, actually, used my college library to enhance my literary reading. But then, now that I think of it, I wouldn’t have been able to access literature books because they were on the first and second floors and the only way up was the stairwell which I couldn’t use.
This is a major problem for me when it comes to wandering around books in a bookstore or library. In my college days I used to walk with my crutches and it was still possible to squeeze through the confined spaces between racks and almirahs, in the library, but when it came to visiting bookstores, even then it was a problem because there is normally very little space between facing racks and normally there are books spread across the floor. Now that I am on power wheelchair, sometimes it becomes difficult even to enter a bookstore, forget about going through the books.
This is a reason why, contrary to what is suggested in this article, I prefer to buy all my books from either Amazon.com (when I’m buying Kindle books) or Flipkart (when I’m buying paperbacks and hardcovers) because all you have to do is use the search box, find the book that you want, add it to the cart, use your credit card to pay, and there you have it. When it comes to Kindle books, you can start reading your book, literally, within a couple of minutes. This is not possible if you go to a physical bookstore.
Not being able to visit a bookstore does not mean I’m totally against the concept of having bookstores, although it is more emotional and less practical considering how many trees we might be saving by opting for digital books rather than paper books. Even the space. So much space is taken by physical libraries. Instead, all the digital versions of the books can be stored in a publicly accessible server. Great libraries have been destroyed by invading armies because it was so easy to burn them down; had they been digitised their various copies would have been available all over the world. Right now, given the technological constraints, I know this is not possible for everyone to access digital books just the way people can access physical books, but if it can be done, it should be done. There are many books for which there is no other option than reading the physical books because our handheld devices are not as flexible as normal books. For instance, books containing lots of maps and images are normally rendered useless in a typical Kindle reader. They may look good in an iPad or a larger tablet, but I haven’t had first-hand experience in that. It’s no fun going through something like an Atlas on a PC, although it is more interactive and easier to use.
Another aspect is, reading a book doesn’t just entail absorbing its contents, it’s a complete experience. Your environment, your physical position, you’re bent of mind at that time, they all become a part of your reading experience. Even purchasing a book in itself is a different experience when you do it through a conventional bookstore. So many people at the same time are browsing various titles and their common intention is to find the book of their desire, whether they want to gift it or read it. This common feeling certainly has a bearing over the atmosphere of the bookstore.
I’m pretty sure, although I haven’t tabulated my experiences, the way I read a paper book must be quite different from the way I read a Kindle book. Again, personally for me reading a Kindle book is easier compared to reading a paperback or hardcover because I can easily place my device in front of me without having to hold it, which is absolutely the case with a normal book. Perhaps this is the reason why I’m reading more books these days compared to the days when I neither had a tablet nor a Kindle reader.