Growing up, we got books from the library. It was a small library and the books were generally five to ten years old (plenty of them from before I was born! they seemed so mysteriously ancient!), but I loved going there and coming home with an armload of new information or stories or crafting instructions.
Then, a Borders opened near my aunt's house in Ohio and we would go there sometimes when we visited. Borders was a revelation. The books were new, the store was new, it was all beautiful and relaxing and decadent. I remember being a little in awe, feeling like probably if the store knew I wasn't really going to buy a book every time I came in (who could afford that??), then their friendly attitude would vanish and they'd stop letting me hang out there.
And then the Internet happened. Borders (and Barnes and Noble, both of which by then had moved into my own area) was still a delightful place to plunk down on the floor and loose hours scanning the shelves and flipping through volumes of history or linguistics or the foreign language section (I can remember spending the precious Christmas giftcard on an Old English primer once and a Teach Yourself Welsh book with cassette tapes another time). But the Internet was serious competition. It was a bit harder to find what you actually wanted (there was no Google and Alta Vista wasn't the greatest, but it's also probably true that there just wasn't a whole lot on the Internet), but it was a perfectly good use of an anti-social high schooler's free time to go following link after link through a web of Society for Creative Anachronism members' pages on how to brew your own meade (never tried), dye yarn with woad (tried and failed), or make your own lace (did that, but with a real book to help).
Then came Amazon. At first, it was a strange and seemingly dangerous idea to buy anything on-line — hackers might steal your credit card! — but within a few years, it started to be that the books I specifically wanted were not on the shelves at the previously-unimaginably-well-stocked bookstore... but could be delivered to my door in a few days with a few mouse clicks.
I understand that Amazon is a tough competitor, that publishers and bookstores are near death, but the chain stores are a misery to me now and I won't cry when they finally disappear. Filled with junk books and things that aren't even books and shelves of educational toys I must drag my children past to get at the real books that I wanted to show them, then scads of Disney and Dora and other TV-based junk books drawing their attention even when we've gotten past the toys.
So, I avoid taking the kids. We go to the library (which has computer games and a few toy bags, but is still much better than the bookstores).
But sometimes, I want a book, in hard-copy, today. Like when I'm listening to The Better Angels of Our Nature, an incredibly fascinating deconstruction of the history of violence (and non-violence) and there are so many numbers and so many details I'd like to refer back to again (and it is quickly working it's way up my best non-fiction books I've ever read list) that I really feel like it would be absolutely worth it to just buy the paper book even though I'm still mostly going to listen to it on Audible (plus, I'm thinking it might be easier to skim the upcoming chapter on Sadism with my eyes than with my ears (which is the only way I got through the chapter on medieval torture without breaking down)).
So, I walk briskly into the store, thinking for sure this will be easy to find because it's only a year old and the author is famous and the book was recommended by... the Economist? I think? Mainstream! Important subject! It will be on the shelf. Several copies. I am sure.
First problem: which section should Better Angels be in? History? Sociology? History of Warfare? Politics?
It's not. Not in any of those sections. Some of what is in those sections is pretty appalling, though. Books on how Obama is "destroying" our republic, for instance. And the usual cram of this strategy, this battle, this war, this loss, this victory kind of narrow war history that galls me to no end.
In fact, Better Angels is not in the store.
But we can order it for you!
Yeah. I'll order it on Amazon, thank you.