Where Have All the Bookstores Gone?

Opinion from Alex Beam, who assumes the title of 'the perfect hypocrite' in relation to how our world is becoming more and more virtual and the places and things we love are disappearing.

I am the perfect hypocrite. I propagandize tirelessly for libraries, and I've railed in this space against what one blogger calls the "Googleization of America." But just a few days ago, while cooling my heels waiting for the Minuteman Library Network to deliver my copy of Garry Wills's 1991 "Under God," I wondered: "Is it available on Google Books?"

Keystroke keystroke keystroke, yes, it was available. I didn't need the whole book, I wanted only to read the 10 pages devoted to Julia Ward Howe's use of the Book of Revelation in composing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

I searched for "Howe" - voila! That was easy. No waiting, no putting on snow boots, no fumbling for my library card. Google Books 1; libraries - well, you get the point.

You behave normally, and you kill the things you love. Whatever happened to video stores? There used to be four or five within biking distance of my house, and now there is one, and it's one you wish hadn't survived: Blockbuster. Yes, of course I use Netflix - who doesn't? Whatever happened to Tower Records? That was a fun a place to hang out. Hanging out on its Web site isn't so much fun. And so on.

As for newspapers, our epitaph will read, "Loved to Death: Everyone Read Them, No One Paid for Them." Talk about unintended consequences.

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