Monday, February 18, 2013

'Don't know what you've got till it's gone'

I have been a regular subscriber to the weekly news magazine, Time, for at least thirty years, before I moved to Norway and since I moved here. I’ve looked forward each week to Time's news summaries and articles, film, book, music and theater reviews, and interesting tidbits that they toss in from time to time. You might think that it would be a problem to experience regular weekly delivery of Time; I can tell you that it’s been a pleasure to be a subscriber. Not once, I repeat, not once, have I ever had a problem with a missed issue or late delivery. I haven’t had to contact customer service for any problem whatsoever, except to renew my subscription, and that is also a problem-free experience, unlike other magazine and newspaper subscriptions that I have had since I moved to Oslo. That by itself is a miracle in this day and age—a magazine that manages to be timely, punctual, and service-minded.

What bothers me lately is that I’ve noticed that with each issue I receive in the mail, especially during the past half year, the magazine is shrinking. Each issue is thinner than the previous week’s issue. Given the fact that its competitor, Newsweek, stopped publishing the paper edition of its magazine at the end of last year (I refer you to Wikipedia for a more-detailed update: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsweek), I have begun to wonder if Time is moving in the same direction. I hope this is not the case, but I have a gut feeling that it is. The end of the paper editions of these magazines doesn’t mean their total demise; in the case of Newsweek, they decided to focus their energies on an all-digital format, meaning that the internet has claimed yet another victim, in one sense. I don’t have a problem with internet; if used well and if you can filter through the morass of information that is available at every turn, you can in fact obtain a lot of useful information in the blink of an eye. I need only think of Wikipedia as I write this—useful, informative, updated, with mostly correct information (and they are honest about the ‘holes’ in their summaries, about what is lacking, and that’s a good thing). But there is something about opening the print issue of a magazine like Time when I get it, sitting down on the couch with a cup of coffee and reading it from cover to cover. I enjoy that very much; it’s not the same sitting down with my Kindle for iPad and reading the issue that way, even though I read books that I’ve downloaded on my Kindle for iPad from time to time. It’s just that I don’t want to see the end of all print publications, be they books or magazines.

And that brings me to my final point; with fewer books and magazines printed, there will be more bookstores that will go belly-up. One of the major American book retailers, Barnes and Noble, is struggling and on the verge of collapse, according to a recent article from Slate (http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/02/14/barnes_noble_collapsing.html), and that makes me sad to read. Very sad. I have fond memories of the many hours spent in their bookstores; starting when I worked part-time as a stocker for a company on West 13th Street in lower Manhattan during my graduate school days, and would spend my lunch hours perusing the bookshelves of the Barnes and Noble bookstore at 122 Fifth Avenue between 17th and 18th streets. I bought many a Christmas present there as I remember. And then later on, during the mid-1980s, when I would drive up from the Bronx where I lived at that time, to their bookstore on Central Avenue in Yonkers and wander around there for a few hours on a summer evening, looking at photo books of Princess Diana (who was all the rage then), or skimming books on why women are afraid of success in the business world, how to make your relationship better, or the meaning of dreams, in the self-help section. Those were weekly trips that I looked forward to, and I always left the store with one or two new books that I couldn’t wait to dive into. In later years, when I have visited my sister in upstate New York during the summer, we have had some fun driving to the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Poughkeepsie, where we would start off our visit with cappuccinos in the little cafĂ© at the back of the bookstore. We would sit and chat for a while, and then wander the aisles in search of a book that would catch our eye. It was always fun to compare our current literary interests, talk about the books we had read or were reading, check out the different games and puzzles for sale, and so on. Sometimes my husband would call me from Norway while we were wandering around the store; we would be laughing at some silly thing, and he would get a chance to join in on the fun. Simple stuff, but simple stuff is the stuff of memories. Bookstores generally, and Barnes and Noble specifically, have been and are a large part of my life. I cannot imagine life without them. As Joni Mitchell sings ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. But sometimes even when you do know, things disappear anyway, replaced by newer things, but in some cases, more sterile things. I will never be attached to a computer the way I have been attached to my books. And that’s not likely to change in my lifetime. 

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