Books not extinct yet!

“I find television to be very educating,” Groucho Marx once declared. “Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.”

Dunno about you, but I’ve been feeling a bit the same.

Don't get me wrong, I think there’s room for a bit of silly escapism in our busy lives – but the sheer onslaught of Married at First Bachelor Kitchen Rules drivel that dominates TV these days plumbs depths that even a garden tool would find insulting to its intelligence.

I’ve just realised I haven’t had my telly on for months, instead watching quirky documentaries on YouTube or, even better, simply retreating into my beloved bookcase.

Even in the middle of the IT revolution, you don’t have to dig too deep in Macarthur to discover a giant, secret tribe of never-say-die booklovers, from all walks of life.

I even heard an American rapper singing, “I like big books and I cannot lie”. (Well, I think that’s what he said.)

So, in this week’s column – after weeks of complaining about greedy developers, traffic chaos and bad estates – I just wanted to send a message to doomsayers predicting the death of the book.

Not yet.

Sure, things are challenging for books. And, many of us are still in mourning six years after Borders at Macarthur Square closed down. That was in 2011 when then-small business minister, Nick Sherry, made the claim that book stores would no longer exist in Australia by 2016.

That made many of us very sad because no matter how cheap Amazon, etc, might be, they can’t replicate the feel, smell and ambience of a physical bookshop. Nor the serendipity – that feeling that you never quite know what you will find on the shelves.

So, in 2017, how has Mr Sherry’s predication gone?

The recent expansions to both Macarthur Square and Narellan Town Centre included book shops.

Well, the recent expansions to Macarthur Square and Narellan Town Centre included bookshops (Book Face and Harry Hartog). Collins survives in Camden, there are two QBDs in Campbelltown Mall and Macarthur Square, and other outlets here and there, including the amazing Lifeline Bookshop in Narellan – an entire houseful of second-hand gems. Add in our brilliant local libraries, another supposed endangered species, and it seems another expert in Canberra has got it wrong.

This topic touches those columns I’ve been writing about lately: a frustration, even sentimentalism, about what we are losing.

I don't know what the future holds for bricks-and-mortar bookstores. But if even Amazon is now opening them overseas, it suggests there’s still a bit of life left.

Even better, if the bookshop has suffered, the book has not. Far from being branded obsolete “dead tree versions” in an internet age, physical book sales have, I’m told, begun to rise again.

Because, as handy as it is to reduce a book to a string of bits through cyberspace if it is purely information or data you are after, books are much more than that. A keepsake, an experience, from the feel of the pages, to the binding and design. You don't even need a Wifi connection.

To those bibliophobes who, in such triumphal tones, like to boast or declare that books are on borrowed time, I simply ask one question: why can’t we have both? Why does it have to be 100 per cent “out with there old, and in with the new”?

Can't we have downloaded data, and keepsakes and treasures?

The sight of so many of our young people in particular in local bookshops, fills me with hope.


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