I fell in love with books at a young age. I remember getting introduced to books before going to school and always had some around.
When we would visit my Grandparent’s place, while the adults sat around the kitchen table playing cribbage and other card games, I would sit in a quiet spot and read what was available in the house. In those days, it was the dictionary and encyclopedia. Yes, I am aware these are dry works that most children would not be interested in. But it was the magical world of books.
The first time I was allowed to go to the school library on my own in the 3rd grade, I was in a kid’s version of Heaven. As I got older, the libraries became regular places to visit. Early on, the now deceased bookmobile, a concept that would be foreign to most kids and young adults today, would swing by the neighborhood to bring a limited selection of reading material to us. I would walk or ride to the library at the community centre when I was older and check out a half dozen novels that I would hope to read in the 2-3 weeks’ time allotted to me.
On my parent’s paydays, when we would get a simple allowance of a few dollars, I would get driven downtown to Bob’s Books. This dingy, basement dwelling used bookstore was run by a man I assume was Bob, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, sitting on a stool and watching me like a hawk. I would race to the back where he had a box on the lowest shelf where I would rifle through the cheap comics worth very little. Of course, the valuable ones were close to the front and housed in mylar bags.
I would spend the entire $5 on a stack of comics I didn’t have to return to the library.
In short, reading has been a part of my life. So, even though it came as a surprise to me, it shocked none of my family when I opened my bookstore after college.
Without realizing it, I was in my little slice of Eden.
At the time we were open in the 1980’s, too long ago for many to remember, the store was broken down into all the varying sections of interest. Of course, as a businessperson, I had the store laid out in terms of the most client’s draw. What most people asked for, we afforded the largest most prominent sections. To those areas of less interest, we gave them spots in the back and lower, just as Bob had done in his bookstore when I was a kid.
I was part of a chain, but mostly independent. I didn’t sort the store based on any corporate driven floor plan determined by some accountant in another city. I listened to the customers to what they wanted and moved the inventory front and back, up and down based on the immediate feedback I received. Therefore, the biggest sections were the most popular. The top shelves were for the best sellers and on and on.
We had general fiction, sci fi, fantasy (please don’t confuse the two as the readers of each often do not cross that genre line), adventure and romance and historical fiction. Mystery and classics.
And, lastly, we had a small section non-fiction. These too were sorted into their own types. The true crime, historical, “authorized” and “unauthorized” biographies and a few self-help books.
Most people came in to purchase fiction of all types.
Somewhere along the way, the world of reading and books have changed.
Less and less people I know read at all. Of those, many do not read fiction at all. They read nothing but non-fiction books. When I go into the bookstore these days, the non-fiction book section jumps out at you the minute you step inside the doors front and centre.
Autobiographies galore. Instead of one book about a public figure, you can find a half dozen with the “real story” behind the public perception. Conspiracy theories and political tell-all’s. How to cook this and build that and how to get better at coping and how to deal with difficult people around you.
Even the kid’s section is full of non-fiction self-help and coping.
Where is the fiction? Beyond the few best sellers and the titles, the store’s corporate leadership is trying to promote, the fiction sections are now at the back. Behind the political section and the how to make money on the Internet books. Behind the games and book accessories sections.
Are we so afraid of a little escapism into a book that fiction is relegated to the back? Or is it that we can get the stories we so desperately need now so readily available on Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu that we don’t have the time or desire to take in the stories with just our own imagery of what the words mean?
And yet, it is in fiction that I learned the most about human nature. It is in fiction that authors teleported me to new and exciting worlds as a child and even later as an adult. Unlike the non-fiction books, where opposing opinions have people buying competing world secrets, the fiction books open my eyes in a different way.
Let’s face it, historically speaking, it has been the fiction writing that has helped us take great leaps forward. The sci-fi writers who imagined robotics and lasers and transportation before their time. Historical authors who explored the “what-ifs” of the past that urged people to rethink the days before. Even the “lighter” reading in romance and adventure that delved into relationships and conspiracies like never before in a way that was accessible to all.
I hope fiction continues to be a major part of people’s lives. But, more and more, I am afraid the “real world” has taken over the bookstore shelves. That is too bad. Reality needs to be faced but not always in the pages between the covers of what we read.