Monday, January 31, 2011

"All alone in a world that's changed/Running scared, now forced to hide/In a land where he once stood with pride."

The Song: "Will the Wolf Survive?", Los Lobos. Words & music by David Hidalgo and Louie Perez. Track 11 of How Will the Wolf Survive?, 1984.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, c. 1985.
Listen/watch here.

Memory's not reliable. I have a vivid memory of listening to this tape on a Greyhound bus from Norfolk to Washington, DC, one winter while I was in college. I was sure it was January 1983, when I returned early from Christmas break for play rehearsals; for years, I've associated this tape with learning my lines for Loot, Mask & Bauble's February 1983 production.

As it turns out, the album didn't even come out until a year later, in 1984. I certainly didn't own any kind of personal stereo until 1985, at the earliest; I think I bought my first Walkman knockoff with earnings from my summer job that year. So my vivid memory of memorizing lines to the beat of Los Lobos is a lie. Which makes me wonder what else I remember that simply isn't true.

Tomorrow, after the Mystery Bookstore closes, Westwood will no longer have any off-campus bookstores. Westwood used to be the heart of the Los Angeles book community; someone said on Saturday that they remembered a time when Westwood had five bookstores, within walking distance of each other.

People say that independent bookstores cannot survive in this new environment, with so much competition from online sellers and e-readers. I don't believe this. I agree that the old models don't work any more, but I see stores finding new models, with new ways to remind people that it's still a great thing to be able to walk into a place that sells and promotes and believes in books. In fact, I'd argue that there's never been a more interesting or exciting time to be an independent bookseller, because I see new opportunities popping up all over the place.

E-readers aren't replacing print books. They might be cutting into the sales of print books, but I see e-readers sparking a renaissance of reading, as people remember how much fun it is to get lost in a story. And if you really love a book in e-format, you're going to want a print copy, so you can hand it to someone or leave it to your kid or just take it down off the shelf once in a while to find that passage you loved most.

It's not like music. The listening experience is the same whether you're listening to an MP3 or a CD; audiophiles can talk about albums vs. singles, digital vs. analog, the warmth of vinyl vs. the austerity of electronics, etc., etc., but the average person doesn't know or care whether they're listening to a digital device or an analog one.

Books are different. Books are both useful and decorative. Books are, as my friend John says, an optimal delivery system. Reading an electronic screen is not the same sensory experience. No matter how much people love their e-readers — and I love my iPad with a foolish, cultlike passion — the e-reader will never be a tactile pleasure in the way that books are.

People will keep buying books. People will still want a place to come for recommendations and conversation and that joyful shock of recognition that comes only when someone puts a book in your hand and says, "Have you read this?"

The world has changed. The wolf will survive. Maybe not in Westwood, but the wolf will survive.

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