By chance of Twitter tonight, I happened upon a lovely little site called snagfilms.com, where one may peruse and then watch a variety of full-length documentaries…for free! With nothing to do tonight, I thought a documentary might be nice and pressed play on Paperback Dreams, a film by Alan Beckstead about two legendary independent bookstores in the Bay Area.
Wow. This film stated so many of my conflicting emotions concerning the book business and bookselling, and with such compelling subjects. Kepler’s Books and Cody’s Books, of San Francisco and Berkeley respectively, were landmarks of free speech and the 1960’s counter-cultural movement. Both revolutionized bookselling in becoming two of the first to primarily sell paperback books, which could be had for far cheaper than hardcovers. And both have been on the verge of bankruptcy and closure at least once…one for good. It’s inspiring to see how important books–and the places we buy them–are to people’s lives. What we read defines us, and becomes as much a part of our identity as family, religion, etc. And yet, this business is on the cusp of extinction, barraged on all sides by ebooks, Amazon and big box retailers. Hell, even Borders is having trouble. Lord help the brave independent.
I wish there were more independent bookstores where I live. Now, I know I work at a non-independent bookstore, but I would shop at an indie in a heartbeat if I could help support such magnificent institutions. But at this point, I just cheer for the success of old fashioned bookselling, no matter what form it takes. People don’t realize what they’re losing when their neighborhood bookstore closes: not only are they losing a place to buy books, but that neighborhood’s intellectual core disintegrates. It vanishes, along with all other physical remnants of this culture’s achievements. We become fragmented and isolated, staring at our computer screens. Our knowledge broadens, but instead of graduating to the deep end, we remain stuck kneeling in shallow water. Along these lines, the description of the film particularly struck me:
When a good bookstore closes its doors for the final time, the surrounding community suffers a profound cultural loss. Kepler and Ross both realize the importance of independent thinking, and it’s precisely their kinds of bookstores that help to democratize literature and redefine intellectual life.
I also thought the short segment on the growing popularity of paperback books to be especially interesting. I called this blog Paperback Fool because, well, I grew up on paperbacks. I never had a lot of money growing up, and neither did my parents, and so our family “library” was a collection of dusty paperbacks my dad had collected in the Navy. When it became my favorite book, I didn’t shell out $15 for a big, fancy copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I bought it in paperback and wore down the spine. In the 1960’s, though, paperbacks were new and revolutionizing how people read. Books were (and still are, to some extent) expensive at the time, but yet with cheap paperbacks, one could read Shakespeare’s entire canon for $5. For little money, one could read classic literature, philosophy, political writings…everything! Knowledge was truly democratized, and anyone could become an intellectual.
It is for this reason my blog is named after these precious objects. Knowledge should be freely shared and easily accessible, and paperbacks provide one of the best gateways to this world. True, the Internet is pretty good at this as well. But even with the Internet, there remains the problem of quantity versus depth.
But that issue, my friends, is another blog post for another day. For the time being, though, stay strong indies. And check out www.snagfilms.com. I know I’ll be back.