Spend an Afternoon in the World of Books
By Bruce McKinney
Whidbey Island, an hour from Seattle's downtown, is a worthwhile day trip, a pristine place where a community of 58,000 lives and tens of thousands visit, if mostly in the summer. Here there is at Langley, Washington, in addition to the requisite groceries and nick-knack shops, an assemblage of book sellers who share a neighborhood and belief that the world of books and images shall endure even as the drum beat of multi-dimensional thought daily subverts old reading habits by offering a bland blend of internet calories that, while sustaining life, deny the poetry of language, the power of image and the touch and possession of the real thing: works on paper. This book selling community practices their trade in a place that, though only 60 minutes distant from Seattle, is a step away from the daily bustle and a step back in time: the day or weekend jaunt where both the casual reader and the committed collector can find lunch, things to look at and some reading or discoveries to take home.
That these booksellers practice their trade in the shadow of Microsoft and Amazon is a reminder that the nearby presence of these behemoths does not diminish the commitments of everyone for the traditional alternatives. Someday, in the Museum of Natural History we may see an exhibit for booksellers in the same light we view scenes of ancient man in a pas-de-deux with mammoths: as the way it was but is no longer. For today these dealers adapt and organize themselves as a destination: a day away, to some extent a step back in time. The what, where and when of book buying and selling changes and so too do booksellers' approaches.
This said, on the pages of the New York Times that arrives daily to in part replace the Post-Intelligencer that slipped beneath the waves a few months past, the news is more and more about Google, Amazon and eBay this and that. The Times, that clearly loves books, finds every reasonable excuse to write about them and to celebrate their continuing existence even as their own stock drops and long time readers pinch the fresh editions for signs of life as expressed by heft. Life is precarious for all things printed these days.
In a world that seems more and more to have traveled with Columbus to the new, those who have stayed behind seem attracted to the shore, looking ever out to sea, wondering when everyone will be coming back. They may not but neither will these sellers of the printed word depart from their DNA driven quest for consistency with their resonant inner voices. Their generation knows the sound even as their children and their children's children glance away in disbelief that such old ideas still resonate with anyone. Twenty-somethings now live in a different place, of thought restructured by repeated internet searches into thought processes that circle the globe in seconds to deliver the history of coffee but none of its taste.
That is why these Whidbey Island holdouts march on. They long ago tasted the drink. The chemical formula, available on line, may be entirely accurate and satisfy the intellect about the facts. But books and images are about something much more. There is feel and smell, color and scale along with human interaction, opinion and debate. The world increasingly is settling for the facts. Just across the bay from Seattle a few are holding out for the feeling. They understand our heritage and who we are. They have it right.