Be a book-muncher

Desperate literature, Madrid, Spain:

As a book-muncher * I have to confess, I’ve ordered my fair share of online books over the years. I did buy an e-book reader back in 2009, when the keyboard of Kindle 2 seemed elegant and e-ink was eccentric. As a neophyte in the paperless sect, I was indulging in all of my cravings, ranging from Scandinavian crime novels to Victor Hugo and Paul Auster, or anything in between. There was no right or wrong purchase, no waiting until the local bookstore would bring the title I longed for. I could have almost any book delivered instantaneously in my hands.

Book-muncher, a: A person that feeds in books. Member of the nerdius bookius family. Book-munchers are usually encountered in libraries, bookstores, lake-shores, or other touristically unattractive places. They may seem snobbish at first, but can be easily drugged out of their caves if asked whether they prefer Neil Gaiman over Isabelle Allende. They are often infected with highly contagious book worms or nerdiness-inducing fungi. Approach them at your own risk.

In the past seven years, thanks to my kindle, I have survived long flights, daily commutes during peak hours and conference talks that could put to sleep even a heavily caffeinated three years old. I’ve read shameful titles like “Twilight”, or “The house of Claudine” hiding behind my gadget; I’ve out-nerded myself over marathons of Japanese literature, devouring feminist and psychopath authors, one after the other; I’ve discovered non mainstream concepts such as polyamory trough e-books that were passed to me by friends.

My relationship with kindle was impeccable, reaching a crescendo and giving me one bookgasm after another, until, one day, out of the blue, I had to break up. It was so sudden, but I carefully counted and realised that by ordering books online I hadn’t been to a single bookstore in five hundred forty seven days and four hours. Yes, precisely that long. That was the time when I decided to hide the kindle in my darkest closet, among other guilty pleasures. The reason? Very simple. My new lover was absorbing too much energy and destroying my long-lasting relationship with paperbacks. Somehow, I realised that I was contributing to what I feared and am still fearing the most: the death of small bookstores.

Indeed, according to UK booksellers, from 2009 to 2012, e-book sales tripled in UK at the expense of paperbacks, whose sales technically remained stable. The e-book sales started plateauing over the next two years, showing an increase of about 30% versus a decrease of about 10% for printed books. The sad numbers remained until about a year ago, when the future of printed books seems to be on the rise, as e-book sales drastically decreased. Whether this decrease in e-book sales is real or fictionary remains to be seen, as it has been recently refuted as a change in the political landscape of publishers. Take these decreasing numbers, add them up to major concerns about the digital giant’s proprietary system and practical monopole and here you have it, no need to double-think why I very much favour physical visits to bookstores over online purchases.

Visiting a bookstore is an intimate fun

A bookstore visit makes a great first date, a silence-breaker when walking around with friends, or a bonding experience between grandparents and their offsprings. One of my favourite early birthday treats were regular visits at a local bookstore together with my grandmother, who, almost illiterate, would accompany me there and sit in a corner among dusty bookshelves. She would patiently await for me for hours, to pick up some new novels which I’d then read over and over again until I knew them by heart.

Bookstores are places of solace

They have offered me comfort after break-ups or periods of distress. I’ll always remember that cold night of February in Berlin, when I found myself weeping inside an English-speaking bookstore over my mother’s tumour, which had just metastasised to her brain. Hearing such devastating news over the phone when being all alone in a foreign place can trigger weird reactions I guess.

Politics reside within

If the personal is political, so are books and the places that host them. Purchasing your next read from City Lights brings all the beat generation flavour to your book. Similarly, a visit to Bluestockings in New York supports local activists, fighting for feminism and gender politics. A strong political atmosphere also resides inside D&E Lake, in Toronto, where, among piles of old books and dust emerges the most amazing bookshop owner, a fair brother to Jasper from Children of Men, ready to discuss Canadian politics and anarchism.

Be a book-muncher

Maybe you want to make a statement with your book choices, maybe not. Perhaps you prefer more pragmatic options over looking for the bookstore or browsing through dusty bookshelves, maybe you’re even allergic to dust and want to save trees. Maybe e-book readers are the right thing for you. Fair enough.

For me, an incurable book-muncher, local bookstores are childhood dreams, solace and action. Supporting them is an almost political statement during changing times and practices, but then, at the end of the day, what matters is to never miss a chance to be a book-muncher, read everywhere, read a lot and be proud of it.

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