A colleague who has taken to American detective novels has been on my nerves boasting about his online shopping habit, asking me which all books to read by pulp fiction writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. When I question him why he has to order his books online when they are available in bookstores and pavement stalls, he says he would like to close down the retail book industry.
“What’s dying must be left dead,” he says. “We have to move on.”
I now no longer tell him which books to read. How can you explain to a man that the joy of spending time in a bookstore is a bigger thrill for the senses than any spa or website in the world. Where else can you go, pick and feel what you want to learn, expand your consciousness, unlock doors of time, travel, and gain unknown experiences and an insight into art, science, fact and fiction? Books are not only essential for writers, but society too, to find its voice and reason, clear its head of free-floating information, which is ironically suppressing you by the very medium that’s convincing you to stay connected, make friends, and share what’s on your mind.
The books you’re ordering online from abroad are not all at discounted prices as you’re led to believe — has anyone checked what dollar conversion rates they use — but the industry has now been taken over by corporations that don’t know how to read. It is slowly cutting the hands of independent bookstores that have been bringing in niche genres and selective writing to you by monopolising the book market. With a single blow, it is filling your bookstore shelves with bestsellers so they can meet their profit targets; they’re deciding for you what you can read.
The war against the printed word has caught flame. The bitter truth is that in this age of rapid commercialisation, digitalisation, and instant click to information, books are only on the verge of extinction. The next generation will not only hold you responsible for this holocaust, but the ghosts won’t forgive you either.
For years now I’ve been watching people with shrunken faces walk into bookstores with handful of bags of imported clothing brands where shirts and trousers don’t cost less than Rs. 2,000 (even with half-price sale tag) who break into sweat to haggle for discount on books not worth Rs. 500. Nothing is more disheartening today than for it to be reinforced that we’re a hollow society ready to trade our intelligence for notions of flamboyance and status.
The bookstores that are being threatened to shut shutters not only put my brother and I through school and college but have also contributed in shaping many great minds. It may have freed our minds in the past, but now it will coax us into dressing in chains. While every generation would like to believe it’s the last, let us try and not set an example of it.