Last week I went to a local bookstore for a reading by the granddaughter of my favorite author and the inspiration for my other blog, Salutations!. An audience of about thirty people and five dogs (a trio of retired greyhound racers, a three-legged shepherd mix who, according to her companion, enjoys hearing Beatrix Potter stories read aloud, and a boisterous dachshund named for a large biting fly native to Africa) crowded in the back of the small store for the reading and the Q&A that followed. At several points the audience applauded enthusiastically and the dachshund barked loudly. It seemed to me that the smallest member of the assembled book lovers had a great deal more to say, so in the epistolary spirit of several of the selected readings I am sharing a letter she might have penned afterward to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.
Dear Mr. Bezos,
I imagine you don’t get many letters from dogs — or many letters, period, anymore — and I have no illusion that you’ll reply, as I’ve heard that you’re famously private. But I have something I’d like to get off my chest, small as it is, so I do hope you’ll hear me out.
Recently I attended a reading by Martha White at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Ms. White, as you may know, is the granddaughter of author E.B. White and the editor of a new collection of his writing, “E.B. White on Dogs.” The book’s title tells you why I was not asked to wait outside, where my vocal displeasure would have been far more disruptive than my barking applause was inside.
No one can enter a bookstore these days and not be aware of the far greater disruption your $125 billion company has wreaked on the publishing industry, and on bricks and mortar retailing generally. Porter Square Books is one of few small bookstores to have survived, even thrived, in the Amazon and Kindle era, and for that I am grateful because it would be a great pity if free, public readings by authors were another casualty of your renown “zeal for disruption.”
Granted, not every author enjoys an audience (as Ms. White remarked, “If my grandfather could have been here, he wouldn’t have been.”), but for those who are willing to step from behind the Oz curtain, bookstores are essential. Yes, libraries could, and often do, serve as venues for readings, but they are not in the business of selling books, and increasingly libraries are less about loaning printed books than about providing access to digital resources (thank you, Google books), so I fear that there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for readers to meet authors, and vice versa, if bookstores and printed books are disrupted to extinction.
At this point you may be be wondering, why is it so important for author and readers to be in the same room? Wouldn’t a YouTube video of the author reach a larger audience? Can’t people make do with books on tape if they are so desperate to hear an author reading aloud? Yes, certainly the technology exists to simulate the visual and audio components of a reading. But, surely, something would be lost if we relied solely on technology, and if I have to explain what, well, then you probably wouldn’t understand why the pleasure of being face to face with the person who has written or edited the words on the pages of a book you are holding in your hands is profoundly different. The thrill of meeting a beloved author, or even his granddaughter, is something only a true book lover can understand. And while I have not published a book, and likely never will, I hazard to say that even the shyest author must take a certain amount of pleasure in knowing that some of his or her readers care enough to sit in folding chairs and hear him or her read aloud words they could more easily have stayed at home and read to themselves, or listened to in their cars, as they ran errands. Though I suppose with everything and the kitchen sink now available for delivery on Amazon, the necessity of running errands soon will soon obsolete, too.
One last thing. I heard that you recently bought the Washington Post. Honestly, I don’t care if you continue to print a broadsheet publication, so long as you keep the Post’s newsroom intact, pay your reporters well, and stay out of their way, editorially. Newsprint gets all over my paws, and it’s no fun to chew on — I’d rather sink my teeth into a good book any day!