The Book Is Dead?

I go to the gym and see people reading. I go to Powell’s Bookstore and the place is jammed with readers. In last week’s New Yorker I learn about the Dickens Universe, a summer camp at the University of California in Santa Cruz where for decades Dickens’s fans, ranging from university professors to realtors, actors, and auto mechanics, young and old, ignorant and scholarly, have been spending a week each summer reading, discussing, and listening to lectures about one of his novels.

Jill Lapore, staff writer for the New Yorker and professor of American History at Harvard attended this camp this summer. She writes:

"There is very little time to sleep at Dickens camp…Reading seminars start at eight-thirty and lectures are delivered in the morning, afternoon, and evening, followed by late-night screens of film adaptations of the week’s novel. There are daily rehearsals of an original farce, written for the occasion. In addition, there are faculty seminars, graduate writing colloquiums, and teaching workshops, not to mention Victorian tea, a Victorian dance, and, presumably, summer romance for graduate students, the less Victorian the better.”

And as if I needed anything more, I read in the Times this Sunday that Ann Patchett reminds me “Americans are still reading books.”

Regardless of who she is, and the fine novels she has written, and the relatively small size of her sample, one cannot entirely discount Patchett's reassuring words as she reports “from the front” on her recent coast to coast book tour to promote her new novel, State of Wonder.

“Night after night after night I showed up in a different bookstore and people were there with their hardbacks. Sure, I signed a couple of iPad covers, Kindle covers. I’ve got no problem with that. But just because some people like their e-readers doesn’t mean we should sweep all the remaining paperbacks in a pile and strike a match. Maybe bookstores are no longer 30,000 square feet, but they are selling books.”

The evidence: " From Porter Square Books outside of Boston and River Run Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H., to Politics and Prose in Washington and the fabulous Powell’s of Portland. From Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, to my most beloved McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Mich., the house was packed. Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, what a bookstore that is! And the Book Stall near Chicago. (I hit them both in a single day.) Book Passage and Kepler’s and Bookshop West Portal, all in the Bay Area, and on down to the legendary Square Books in Oxford, Miss. (which, 20 years before, filled its entire window with my first novel at a time when I could not draw more than three people who were not related to me). The book, I am here to tell you, is not dead, and neither is the bookstore."

So firmly was she persuaded of the future of small, independent, locally owned bookstores, that she and her business partner have started their own. It will be called Parnassus Books and will open in Nashville, their hometown, this October. Its Mission Statement can be found here.

Is there a booklover who has not dreamed of doing something like that?