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Zoethe

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The death of browsing [Jul. 21st, 2011|10:14 am]
Zoethe
When I was a kid, looking up a word in the dictionary took a minimum of 15 minutes, if not half an hour or more. This was not because of poor alphabetization skills on my part; it was due to my fascination with words. I would read about the root of the word, and then read the definitions of other words on the page. Sometimes I would remember an unknown word that I'd seen in a book and look it up as well. The same thing would happen when I looked something up in the encyclopedia: start with one topic; end up reading about six more.

That's one of the reasons we bought our kids actual encyclopedias instead of just a computer program. We wanted to afford them the leisure of browsing. And a computer program that just looks up a single word or concept on demand doesn't encourage that kind of browsing. I hated to see it go.

I feel the same way about the demise of Borders. Lots of people have said that they haven't been in a brick-and-mortar bookstore in many years, relying on Amazon for their book shopping needs. And I do admit that I make regular use of Amazon's terrific prices and service.

But there is something about wandering in a bookstore that the Amazon experience will never match. When I walk through a bookstore, I'm likely to find books that it would never occur to me to read if I hadn't stumbled across them in my wanderings.

Amazon will never be a substitute for this. Oh, sure, they have their "recommendations" page, but it is not terribly helpful ("You own a hardbound copy of Pride and Prejudice? Then surely you want a paperback copy of it! No, well how about this copy of it?") and certainly not good at offering the kind of random selections that I've found while wandering in bookstores.

Now, the death of Borders does not equate the death of all bookstores. But Barnes and Noble is also struggling to stay afloat, and of course the two of them had pretty much annihilated the independent bookstore long ago (though Amazon would probably have done that pretty well if the others hadn't). It may be a just a matter of time until the bookstore is a rare treat. And I think that as readers we will be much poorer for the loss.
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Comments:
From: simulated_knave
2011-07-21 02:56 pm (UTC)
I agree. I like the ability to browse (even if it's only within a particular section). I CAN do stuff online - but it doesn't mean I like to. Sometimes I want to go out, look around, and get something.

I suspect it's a hunting urge.

Canada's bookstores seem to be surviving somehow (I think the fact that there's basically one bookstore chain left helps a lot). And there's actually a local independent bookstore in the city. But I worry about them.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 03:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, but it's also that shopping online tends to narrow what I'm offered. If I've been on a classics kick, I see no spec fic in my recommendations; if I've been stocking up in the kitchen, it's all cookbooks and home goods. There's no chance for that cover that catches your eye as you wander by.
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[User Picture]From: geli_tripping
2011-07-21 02:57 pm (UTC)
I agree with you 100%. I love Amazon, but nothing beats a bookstore. I think a trip to Columbus to visit the Book Loft is in order soon, I could easily spend 3 or 4 hours in there!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 03:20 pm (UTC)
Book Loft is dangerous. I still haven't finished reading all the books I got there the last time I visited. I love it.
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[User Picture]From: tylik
2011-07-21 02:58 pm (UTC)
I have trouble crying much over the death of Borders.

I do support independent bookstores - to the point where I have a deal set up with Appletree where I email them the ISBNs of books I want, they order them, and I pick them up a few days later. I order all kinds of things that are not books from Amazon, and they are kind of a home town shop for me... but I want bookstores to live.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 03:57 pm (UTC)
It's not so much crying over Borders as it is the direction that bookstores are headed. Though I have a fondness for Borders as it came into Alaska and provided us with an actual bookstore worth going to, back in the day when its shelves were filled with interesting things.
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[User Picture]From: wdomburg
2011-07-21 03:42 pm (UTC)
I actually find I browse significantly more with hyperlinks than with paper, generally with more depth (since I can follow references and easily look up secondary sources).

That works less well for fiction, but you also have things like Goodreads and other social tools that can broaden your exposure.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 04:01 pm (UTC)
I almost mentioned that the internet and its hyperlinks have been a decent antidote to the information problem (though not really the dictionary browsing problem), but decided it was off-point in the essay. Probably a bad judgment call.

Goodreads does it a little, but it's not the same as the spontaneity of picking up a book on a shelf. Stuff doesn't just catch my eye on Goodreads like that.
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[User Picture]From: mrs_kat_tyler
2011-07-21 04:10 pm (UTC)
I absolutely read more and with more variety now that I can shop online/have a Nook reader. And live in San Jose and have easy access to their very large public library system.

I have back issues and trying to stand around reading the backs of books in a store is very painful for me and small print on some books restricts my reading options. At the library I can just take everything I might possibly want to read and decide at home. At a store, I have to stand their and waffle between two books and if I pick one I don't enjoy all that much, I've really wasted $8.

Amazon/shopping online makes it so much easier to read reviews, read a chapter, put it my cart and take 2 days to decide, etc. And I have to say their recommendations are extremely helpful to me, and have often helped me find books I would like.

I will still miss actual bookstores though. I love to go with friends to wander around, have something at the cafe and casually look. I also still buy there when I find a book I want to read RIGHT NOW. Its nice knowing that I can find something online and go to a store and get it right away--I would miss that!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 06:47 pm (UTC)
Interesting. It's cool to read your different experience and the contrast between yours and mine.
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[User Picture]From: the_xtina
2011-07-21 04:25 pm (UTC)
It is entirely possible that I cannot read yet:

But there is something about wandering in a bookstore that the Amazon experience will match.

That's either good, or it's missing a "not" or "never".  Y/n?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 06:48 pm (UTC)
Oops. Missing a never. Will fix.
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[User Picture]From: merchimerch
2011-07-21 04:31 pm (UTC)
The same thing is happening in libraries, and it makes me sad. Most academic libraries are only carrying online versions of the majority of academic journals, making a brute force search that involves lots of browsing very different, because of the nature of online searching/reading.

Also, a lot more reading material has gone into closed stacks and long term storage, only available by request.

Certainly our relationship with printed matter is changing, and I think that this loss of browsing in order to make spontaneous discoveries is indeed a huge loss.
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[User Picture]From: sapphirescarlet
2011-07-21 04:49 pm (UTC)
I love the smell of a bookstore or library. And I tend to get lost for hours in either one. But I find myself right-clicking on covers that intrigue me in Paperback Swap, and finding lots of books that I never would have considered otherwise. It's a bit of a vice really, since they're free, and as a result I've got several stacks that I haven't even cracked the cover on yet. It's all I can do to keep myself away from the site until I've read a few.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 06:54 pm (UTC)
I have mixed feelings about that because I want to buy books to support authors.
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[User Picture]From: the_xtina
2011-07-21 04:55 pm (UTC)
More pertinently, I'm a lot more likely to acquire new books from reviews and recommendations than I am from in-person browsing, and I say this as one who not only lives near Powell's, but who is dating someone who works at Powell's.  I am very well acquainted with the concept of "choice paralysis".  :P
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 06:57 pm (UTC)
My first visit to Powell's led to choice paralysis, but I tend to buy more at a physical bookstore.
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[User Picture]From: mazlynn
2011-07-21 05:08 pm (UTC)
Fortunately there are some libraries with good selection in our area, so I still get some of that effect.
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[User Picture]From: mazlynn
2011-07-21 05:15 pm (UTC)

though now that I think about it, I also get the Amazon effect since the local library has poor selection, but is tied into a good network, so I order a lot of specific books on inter library loan, and only browse when I need something in a hurry and drive to the branch to get it.
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[User Picture]From: creentmerveille
2011-07-21 05:16 pm (UTC)
Amen.

In my heathen tourist area, as far as I know we now have Barnes and Noble and that's about it, apart from a tiny handful of used bookstores which feature, in my experience, mostly pulp fiction/'beach reading' novel stuff. And of course the library. Losing Borders was tragic for us, as that was our go-to place. Losing B&N would be unthinkable.

I worry that e-books are going to lead us to a time in which there is no bookstore experience, and it's rare to have your hands on an actual book at all. That would be a terrible loss.



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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-07-21 06:02 pm (UTC)
that time is coming. probably not in our lifetime, but it's coming.
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[User Picture]From: phillipalden
2011-07-21 05:48 pm (UTC)
Barnes & Noble are on the way out.

I, too, find this sad. While there are still amazing used book stores up the road in San Francisco, I used to enjoy spending time at Borders and B&N, sometimes just looking at titles.

Erik and I order a lot of things from Amazon, and we both have a Kindle. But as with many of my writer friends, there's something about a physical "analog" book, and I think there's a place for both, (although I need more book shelf space.)

I would buy books (and the occasional) DVD from Borders/B&N, and I liked looking through a book before I bought it.

I think there's a place for both, but between the "economic meltdown" and Amazon, I feel they were bound for the scrapheap of history.

But we will remember them fondly.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 10:58 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine life without physical books. I read a fair amount on my iPhone, and am glad that it means I've always got a book with me, but it's just not the same as the feel and scent of a book.
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-07-21 06:00 pm (UTC)
When I was a kid, looking up a word in the dictionary took a minimum of 15 minutes, if not half an hour or more.

I, also, was that child. Still am. Give me a dictionary, encyclopedia (Wikipedia even), an atlas (GoogleMaps), and I'm lost for hours. Hours.

When I walk through a bookstore, I'm likely to find books that it would never occur to me to read if I hadn't stumbled across them in my wanderings

And I just love the feel and look and etc etc of a bookstore. Most bookstores. Places like B&N seem like fake bookstores to me - no atmosphere and they smell of nothing except the side where the Charbucks is.

And I think that as readers we will be much poorer for the loss.

Mari concurs.
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[User Picture]From: thessalian
2011-07-21 06:00 pm (UTC)
Part of me wonders if this is mostly a US thing. Yes, Borders shut down here in the UK too, but I haven't actually seen a lot of other chains going that way. But maybe that's an immediacy thing and the extreme suck that is the UK postal system most of the time - when the choice is between ordering something that you won't be able to pick up from your back-of-beyond postal dispatch centre until stupidly early the Saturday after it was supposedly delivered (if your postman decides to let you know that it was delivered at all), and just going to the bookstore and getting the book you want without that mess? I think most people here are going to choose brick-and-mortar.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 11:14 pm (UTC)
I was hugely impressed by the number of bookstores in England when we were there. And very jealous.
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[User Picture]From: noevilliveon
2011-07-21 06:40 pm (UTC)
This is EXACTLY what is killing me about all this. Twice a month, I go to the bookstore. Most of the time, I do have a rather specific goal in mind. But I walk in looking for one or two specific books, and walk OUT with two or three, having picked up another something random that caught my eye. Then spend the next two weeks reading both what I wanted AND what I found, and repeat the cycle.

The only times I've ordered online, it's been because literally NOWHERE in town stocked the book I wanted. I'd rather drive the hour and a half across the so that I can get my bonus browsed-for book(s) than order ONLY what I already knew I wanted.

I've been having to order online more and more often, though. I'll be in the middle of a series, and discover that the local stores suddenly stopped stocking ANY of it.. Even though I just bought it from them a couple weeks prior.

Losing Borders just kills me, though. The B&Ns around here almost NEVER have what I'm looking for, I can't walk up to a computer terminal and VERIFY that they don't have anything in stock, and their sales people are remarkably difficult to pin down for questions. The one down the road didn't have CHAUCER, for goddess' sake..

I am sorely going to miss my regular bookstore constitutionals. And the lovely new authors I keep discovering because of them.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 11:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's exactly what I will be missing.
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[User Picture]From: ipslore
2011-07-21 08:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'd have to say that Wikipedia-browsing has replaced the dictionary-browsing that you mention.
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From: anonymousalex
2011-07-21 08:54 pm (UTC)
I miss:

1) Mall bookstores. Time was when every mall had a bookstore, and the decent ones had two or three. There was always somewhere I could go in the mall.

2) Used bookstores. I used to spend hours in them, just browsing. There are still a few around, but not half as many.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 11:24 pm (UTC)
We have Half-Price Books, but it's not like a good used bookstore. I miss those.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2011-07-21 10:10 pm (UTC)
we have a friday routine. TheEngineer works 1/2 days on fridays, so he comes home, and we head out.

across town (houston) to the vietnamese noodly soup place, then to B&N, then to world market, swing by chick-fil-a for lemonaide, sam's club then home. every friday, the only thing that varies is if i want to hit up sam's or not.

we normally spend $30+ on books. each week. our bookshelves moan piteously. ;)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-21 11:26 pm (UTC)
That's a great routine.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-22 01:23 pm (UTC)
Maybe we've just been fortunate enough to have a decent Borders and B&N here, but I haven't found them to be worthless. Certainly their front tables are, but I've found plenty of good stuff in the stacks.
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[User Picture]From: wrendragon
2011-07-22 03:16 am (UTC)
I can see why they fail, though. I go in to the bookstore and can't find what I want, or they only have the third book of the series I'm interested in starting. So they tell me to order it from their website, but then Amazon is cheaper. :/ We were ordering books from Chapters.ca only because we had gift cards.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-22 01:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, there is no doubt sound reasons why it's happening. I just regret it.
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[User Picture]From: icefacade
2011-07-22 01:11 pm (UTC)
I am SO SAD about the death of Borders :(

I always told people that bookstores are my Tiffany's, you know, the place where you go when you have the Mean Reds.

You can't SMELL the books on Amazon, and yes, I use them as well, but you have to wait for the books to arrive, even with my prime membership, and sometimes I just need to be surrounded by a million words that aren't my own, just to quiet my own mind. I like walking and tapping my fingers on the spine of a book here and there, just to say 'I notice you and I'll try to be back'.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-22 01:37 pm (UTC)
Yes, the surrounded by words thing is definitely something I love. And bookstores are the place I go when I feel the need to be surrounded by shiny, buyable stuff. Little interest in clothes and no interest in jewelry. I am filled with the sad.
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[User Picture]From: midnightsjane
2011-07-23 06:06 am (UTC)
I am lucky enough to live in an area that is bookstore friendly; there are three within two blocks of my apartment. One is a mystery store owned by friends of mine, which is just across the street. I have spent countless hours just hanging out at DeadWrite, drinking tea with Jill and exploring the shelves. Knowing someone who runs an independent bookstore (they own two; DeadWrite, and WhiteDwarf, a sci-fi/fantasy store about 6 blocks from here) has made me much more aware of how hard it is for them right now. They do a pretty big online mail order business, but ordering online is so much less satisfying than wandering around in a real store, checking out the books.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-23 01:00 pm (UTC)
Count your blessings. It's a rare thing these days.
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[User Picture]From: delosd
2011-07-24 12:13 am (UTC)
I may be an anti-Luddite, but I actually prefer to browse on-line. I find the Amazon "Listmania" feature really helpful for that, as well as the "Other people that bought this bought THESE..." listings. I've also had good luck with the suggestions that popup right after you buy something, although many of them I do already have.

Part of this may be because I was always allergic to the dust in used bookstores, as well as the occasional cats. :)

Hope you did not die and dessicate at Art Fair yesterday!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-07-24 02:00 pm (UTC)
What can I say; I'm a very tactile person. I like to touch the books I'm thinking of buying. Like I said, I do make use of Amazon, but it will never be the same experience as going into a bookstore.

Art Fair melted us pretty thoroughly, then drenched us so that we were both desiccated and drown. Yet despite that we found nothing that needed to accompany us home. A little disappointing, but we are going to breakfast at Zingerman's, and then making an Ikea run before heading home, so it's a good weekend. And we saw Captain America last night, which was fun.
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[User Picture]From: fitfool
2011-08-02 12:08 am (UTC)
I feel like the browsing from one topic to another is still very much available...just now we do it online.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-08-02 12:43 am (UTC)
True. But it's not quite the same.
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