Monday, August 24, 2009

I've seen the future and it is literate
Sophie Heawood finds the end of the book is very far from nigh
The Independent on Sunday, Sunday, 23 August 2009

They say that nobody reads in Hollywood but I am currently staying in Tinseltown itself, in a house so full of literature that every time I look around the room I seem to discover yet another bookshelf cleverly tucked into the rafters.
What's more, these volumes haven't been bought on Amazon or at Borders, but in independent bookshops – something that Los Angeles, a city more associated with boobs than books, is surprisingly full of.
There's one shop called Skylight Books, where they had to hastily scrawl signs saying "full to capacity" last night, after so many people crowded on to the street to see hit author Dave Eggers talk about his new book and sign copies. I know he's a bit of a cult celebrity, but come on, this is hardly the latest Harry Potter – it's a non-fiction account of a Muslim bloke who lived through Hurricane Katrina with the help of a canoe.

Then there's Family, an intriguing shop that celebrates local underground talent, selling writing by a bunch of old drunks like Charles Bukowski and a generation of DIY-published new ones. I'm currently reading Bukowski's Post Office for the third time, lost in his reckless journeys around this very town weighed down by anger, hangovers and a sackful of letters that he hurls at his ungrateful customers and the schmucks who employ him.

And then there's the wonderful and enormous Book Soup, stocking 60,000 hand-picked titles on that same Sunset Strip where Hugh Grant hand-picked his prostitute. These shops are seriously cool places to hang out – some stay open until midnight on Fridays, full of hip young things with their nose in a book. Imagine! And people say that books are dead. If bookshops are thriving like this in LA, surely they can thrive anywhere.

Ah, but what about the Kindle, you might ask, and all the other electronic book devices that are coming to kill off humble papyrus and steal our souls. Well, yes, change is the only constant and electronic books may well come to equal paper ones in importance. One day they may take over. There are risks attached to this, authorial copyright being one of them. Some of us will worry about the death of paper – possibly the same of us who worry about the death of rainforests.
Oh, but books! There's nothing like reading a well-printed, well-bound book. Because there's nothing like books to soothe the mind – they reach parts that yoga and acupuncture and winning the lottery cannot. Reading is the most calming thing I know, the thing most likely to ensure that I enjoy my day and sleep calmly full of voices other than the incessant ones that whirr and wail inside my head.

It's not that I suffer from any medical condition of that sort. It's more of an endless, "well maybe I will go out tonight but I won't spend any money and I'll just drink tap water and I'll come home on the night bus and everything will be OK, no but it's impossible to go out and not spend any money and I'll just end up getting a cab like I always do and if I don't drink I'll only feel rubbish anyway but oh how can I think such a thing when it's the drink that makes you feel bad in the first place and I thought I was going healthy this week anyway but maybe that will start next week but then I wonder if I should still have yoghurts".
Oh, for God's sake make it shush! Grab a book, get reading and get the rhythms of somebody else's words running through your head like a marching band. The drumbeat of another story, another life, another cast of characters, another sky.
Here in LA I have seen the future, and it is literate. So let's all open bookshops, make them glorious places to hang out, and stay open till midnight at the weekend. And if all else fails, get Dave Eggers in.

Great stuff Sophie, I'm with you! Real books printed on paper sold by imaginative indie booksellers - long may they reign.

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