The future of the book(store)

First of all, the important news: If you are a reader in the Key West area, get your butt down to Voltaire Books, at the corner of Simonton and Eaton streets — they’re going out of business and the stock is 50 percent off. Fabulous deals to be had, and you’ll be helping out some very good guys in taking the books off their hands.

This is happening at the same time as the national collapse of Borders, which is giving us a strange feeling in Key West, an allegedly literary little city if there ever was one. I’m sad that Voltaire is closing — I loved to browse there, tried to buy books there when I was buying books and gave gift certificates as birthday presents for the last couple years. But even though the bibliogods are probably going to strike me down for thinking this, much less writing it, I don’t feel like this is a sign of the book apocalypse.

For one thing, I just returned from a conference about the Future of the Book (more on that in future posts, I hope) and the future, it is clear, is largely digital. Not entirely and not for everyone. I expect to read print books for the rest of my life and after that .. well, that’s not my problem.

I also think some part of me, having watched bookstores come and go over the years, knew not to invest too much emotionally into Voltaire. I supported them as best I could but I did not pin all my hopes on the future of the book on them. It was a wonderful little store for a time and now it’s gone. Just like Blue Heron and lots of other bookstores I have loved and supported. Also: I work in a library. I have plentiful access to books — new, old, donated, advanced review copies. Personally, selfishly, I don’t feel a dearth of books. (When my husband sees me coming home with bags loaded with books I think he wishes I did.) You can buy books here, too — we have donations and library discards for sale for as little as a quarter — and paperbacks for free!

And there’s this: We still have Key West Island Books on Fleming, just off Duval — the venerable institution is now under new ownership and it’s time to return and support them. It’s a lot cleaner and less cluttered, too. They’ve always had a great selection of used books; now the challenge will be to see if they can pick up the new book market, beyond top 10 bestsellers and local interest titles. If not, that’s OK — there’s always Amazon and it will give new justification to the occasional Books & Books binge on mainland trips. (A side note to fellow islanders: If you visit Miami and do not take the time to stop by Books & Books you are cheating yourself — they have several locations but I recommend the Coral Gables flagship store — amazing selection, dream atmosphere … and a nice little cafe with terrific panninis.)

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