There’s been a great deal of conjecture lately about the future of the bookstore: What will happen to the B&N stores (especially if they do plan to reduce the number of stores)? What about independent bookstores? Will Amazon crush bricks-and-mortar stores out of existence? Oh, lordy, will there even be such a thing as a bookstore!?!?
Not surprisingly, this all made me think of a song. Under time pressure to have a song for the first Earth Day concert in 1970, the great Tom Paxton created the gold standard for songs about ecology when he wrote “Whose Garden Was This.” In it, the singer lives in a future world where flowers and forests no longer exist, birds no longer fly and he’s only seen pictures of blue rivers and heard recordings of breezes. In the end, he desperately makes us swear it’s true that “The forest had trees, the meadows were green, the oceans were blue and birds really flew.”
With all the issues facing bookstores today and all of the conjecture (some might call it sturm und drang) about the future of bookstores, it made me wonder: Will Paxton’s great-granddaughter one day write a similar song about bookstores? Will she make us swear that we went to a place where we could touch a printed book at all, let alone before it arrived in the mail?; where we could say to another human being, not an algorithm or a database, “What do you recommend?”