Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Demise of Our Intellectual Playgrounds

This photo is my last look at my beloved local children’s bookstore. Like so many others, it will soon close and be gone for good. I mourn the loss of this important staple in the neighborhood. I really believe the slogan, “there goes the neighborhood” is apt in this case and throughout cities and suburbs across America as one way of life begins to all but vanish.

My kids and I went to this bookstore for a variety of reasons: to browse, to buy birthday gifts for friends, to get a long awaited book on its release date, and to meet authors in person. This was the kind of bookstore that drew in authors for presentations and then set them up to visit local schools. We met a great many interesting, friendly, famous children’s authors in this store. It was here that we admired Jacqueline Wilson’s rings on every finger, talked to Linda Sue Park about her recent carpel tunnel surgery, and chatted with Wendelin Van Drannen about the origins of her name.

I got all fan girl crazy a couple of times. I got to shake hands with Christopher Paul Curtis and I know we were smiling and chatting but I can’t really remember anything else clearly after that *swoon*. And after years of adoration I got to meet E.L. Konigsberg in person. (Who sadly passed away over the weekend after I originally wrote this). My kids now have a signed copy of “From the Mixed Up Files” It’s hard to think of anything much cooler than that. Soon there will be no place to meet favorite authors and nothing to sign. Typing an autograph on someone’s Kindle is just never going mean much.

 Not to sound like an amateur Jane Jacobs, but the bookstore closings show me that our environments are becoming wastelands for intellectual growth. Urban and suburban design are becoming devoid of places to meet and exchange ideas. If there are no places to browse for books, no places to meet like minded book lovers to chat about a book, no places to interact with actual writers, then there will be no place to grow as readers and lovers of books. The multifunctional nature of these spaces are not being replaced by anything similar but by clothing stores, juice bars, and the like. City neighborhoods and suburban communities thus both lose a key element of their successful design.

So what will our kids do instead? I guess they will run around on the artificial turf with shirts that say “play hard or go home.” And then they will go to their SAT prep classes so they can produce the results that our society seems to value. Clearly they will not buy books in the numbers they used to and they will not have the opportunity to appreciate the value of a society that supports intellectual curiosity, creative writers and thinkers, and reading for pure unadulterated pleasure. The demise of our intellectual playgrounds seems to be a done deal.


Deborah Heiligman said...

This is so sad. I keep thinking that with fewer chains, the Indies have a chance. But as they dwindle, so does my hope. Let's keep as many brick and mortar bookstores around as possible!There is NOTHING like a book-loving, book-knowing person putting the right book in a kid's hands. Librarians, teachers, book-store owners and workers--we cannot lose them.

Deborah Heiligman said...

P.S.What is the name of this store?

Ms. Yingling said...

I understand your pain, but I don't really feel it. My parents never allowed us to buy books, and we never went to bookstores. We had books, but they were all hand-me-downs or from school orders. When I was old enough to buy books myself, I would always get used copies at rummage and library sales. We did, however, always go to the library and read a ton. this is not good for book sales, but it worked fine for reading. I don't know if this makes you feel better or worse. It's always hard to lose places you love.

Linda Salzman said...

Deborah, The store was called,"Books, Bytes, and Beyond"

Linda Salzman said...

Ms. Yingling, I agree that it's great to have access to books, wherever you can get them is great. I was really talking about how bookstores themselves add to the community of neighborhoods. It's important for people who choose to spend their money on books to have somewhere to go and a way to express its importance as a place in a vibrant community. Intellectuals want a place to go and feel accepted and a vital part of the local culture as much as athletes want a really well-maintained field to play on (to enjoy and draw in other good athletes.)I'm not sure if readers haven't been willing to spend the money it takes to support these stores or if they simply weren't valued enough in general.