My travels with Hemingway and The Godfather: Why you can shove your e-reader

For the next four days, I’ll be struck by a bit of sadness as I pass the Borders retail location on Second Avenue between 31st and 32nd streets in Manhattan on my walk home from the office. What once was a palatial two-story bookstore crammed with readers, children and dogs has become a ransacked room of near-empty shelves and low-low-price signage. The location had been winding down operations for some time, but it wasn’t until I read yesterday’s jumbo sign, “Only 6 Days Left,” that I fully realized I’d have less than one week to say my goodbye.

The anticipated death of literature and magazines will, in my opinion, never happen. People will always read. And, as a result, writers will always write and publishers (self-publishers?) will find ways to make money off writing. But the death of the hardback could very well be imminent as we move to an era of digitalization. Consumers want books when they want them and not when Amazon can ship it to them or when the remaining bookstores open in the morning. Publishers don’t want to spend money producing physical books when one digital copy can be shared instantly with millions of readers.

This is an unfortunate reality already documented by many writers more qualified than I am. Nonetheless I feel a duty to express my love for physical book-reading and to say that I doubt I’ll be e-reading any time soon — not out of protest but out of preference.

When I was 19, I spent a summer studying at an art school in a small town in the south of France. I didn’t speak French, and I wasn’t close friends with any of the Americans at the school. It was my first summer away from home and the homesickness was unbearable. I was close to heading back to Brooklyn before I found two books in the school’s 100 book library: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway and The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

This was before Steve Jobs was a rock-star, back when apps were things you sent to colleges and jobs. I’m glad it was. 

The Hemingway was a dusty navy blue hardback with thick pages and large dark font. I was careful not to open it too wide for fear of cracking its spine, and I couldn’t drink or eat while reading it because any hint of liquid on my fingers would stain the paper. The book smelled of must and probably weighed two pounds but I carried it everywhere I went for more than six weeks.

The Godfather was a wrinkled, dog-eared paperback with scribblings and notes lining every few pages. The paper was cheap and tore if I turned the pages too fast. I mistreated the dying book, stuffing it into my back pocket or bending its cover back at any chance I got.

The memory of these books will stay with me for the rest of my life, not only because I love the stories and because they kept me company on a lonely trip, but because their physical presence turned them into something more than words on a page or a story well told. Perhaps my teenage cousins will one day tell this same story about their first iPad 2 and all the amazing books they downloaded on it.

I doubt it.

For all the direct marketers who made it this far into this piece, please send along your catalogs or magalogs or whatever you’ve taken to calling your print materials these days. I’m relatively new to the direct marketing industry, but I’ve been impressed by the work I’ve seen thus far and I’d like to use this space in the future to call attention to your impressive work.

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