Even as a small child, my image of a bookworm involved snuggling into a corner of the couch and squirming deeply into the pages of "Anne of Green Gables" or "Winnie the Pooh." Perhaps I’d dog-ear a special page, but inevitably I’d have to pause when I’d tuck my handmade tasseled bookmark securely between two pages. An hour later I’d be back, leaving my parents to wonder if I shouldn’t go outside to play.
Inside my books I left anxious thoughts behind and took flight into imaginary worlds — well, not too far gone. I wasn’t much for fantasy. At 10, my grandmother sent me a collector’s edition of "Little Women" and suggested I wait until I was 12 to read it, but I simply couldn’t, and my world expanded into romance.
On my bookshelves, I have my first copies of these classics. They remind me of who I was when I was young. I’ve added some others: Cather, Hemingway, Faulkner, Shakespeare; and an outcropping of new authors: Anne Lamont, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim O’Brien and Tobias Wolff.
But the bookworm the June 29 editorial refers to is one who slides a fingertip across a touchscreen. The editor waxes poetic on the benefits of devices children can hold in the palm of their hand. (Doesn’t one hold a book in the palm of one’s hand?) Perhaps I missed out on an important element of maturation when I did not read fantasy or science fiction. “Print media is morphing and the commercial market and demand is driving the change.” I suggest Amazon and the all-mighty dollar are sparking the pistons, and the glassy-eyed consumers of every new gadget and gimmee are following like lemmings.
At one time, I was a reading assistant in an elementary school. I sat at a low table across from small groups of struggling readers. Together, we worked on comprehension and fluency. I praised and encouraged. Some children found their reading voice, while others sputtered on. Eventually, the monies paid to me bought a computer-generated reading tutorial. Screen time replaced relationship time.
Perhaps reading levels are rising dramatically; I haven’t kept up with the aftermath. However, I spoke with one of my old students the other day. He just graduated from high school and is gainfully employed. He remembered me with a huge smile and a high-five. Try doing that with a hand-held device.
In the June 18 issue of The Nation, Steve Wasserman ends his essay, “Amazon and the Consequences of Publishing,” with the comment: “I hope, worried as I am about the current trajectory (of publishing), that we do not look back one day, sitting on a stump as the boy does in Shel Silverstein’s "The Giving Tree," and only see what has become a largely denuded wasteland.”
I hope I’ll never walk into my grandchildren’s homes where there are not books scattered about — magazines and newspapers, too — and shelves brimming with history and potential.
Most of you know I work in a small independent bookstore. I consider my work “community service,” since my paycheck will never reflect my worth. Yet the value of a bookstore to this community should never be understated. Daily, I hear folks from other parts of the state "oooh" and "ahhh" over the opportunity to simply browse through the shelves. Children hunker down on the floor to open the “large colorful children’s print books.” A palpable serenity overcomes some customers, who wander aimlessly, unconscious of time or commitment.
What would it feel like if, one day, the bookstore simply disappeared?
Recently, a group of friends from the C3 Exchange held a flash-gathering at the bookstore. Between 11 a.m. and noon on a Saturday, they arrived en mass to “spend some serious money on books." Unaware of the plan, my co-worker and I stood behind the counter, cashing people out as if Christmas had arrived in June.
What a blast! “We want you to know how much we appreciate having a bookstore in our community,” the organizer said. Indeed. Thank you.
This week, we filled several orders for local school librarians. It appears young people still enjoy turning paper pages. Indeed. Thank you.
Thank you, too, to the scores of loyal customers we serve every day, picking up their local newspaper. It’s great to live in a community where you can spin two quarters across the counter and exchange a smile or praise for the fragrance of the roses outside the doorway.
Call me a dinosaur. But my son and daughter-in-law just moved back to Michigan from a big city out west, with their collection of vintage vinyl records and a turntable. Imagine that. They own an original Beatles record, and the music is sweet.
History has a way of repeating itself. Read on.
Editor's note: This marks the return of Grand Haven resident Ann Brugger to the Tribune's community columnist ranks. Her column will appear the first Friday of each month. Welcome back, Ann.