There are painting works in the office, shiny new bookshelves and that intimate business of rearranging all the stories, histories and reference works too. It made me think how sad these last few years have been, and how what to one writer happened in America was perhaps the death knell of a whole generation. Especially since it coincided almost eerily with a world banking crisis. It is a delight to hear people talking with passion about their Kindles or readers, about all they can access so quickly and above all about discovering a passion for stories and reading itself. But Phoenix Ark are rather older school and have been a reluctant bride in the e World.
Books are not just the stories inside them, they are like people, personalities and their physical entities contain memory and experience in themselves. Sometimes that is very personal, from annotations, to rediscovered postcards popped inside, from special pages turned down, to well remembered gifts. Those memories can be as happy or as painful as that business of doing your tax returns after a split up, and recalling last year’s cost. But physical books are of course also things of enormous work, thought and beauty. They are stamped by the people who got together to create them, from author to editor to designer and artists, and most specifically carry the mark of their particular moment, and then their successive reinterpretation by future generations, if they survive. Will that not all be lost in the swilling multiverse, where actually words are now also representations of numbers and binary code on a screen?
So, seeking advice from Amazon recently about their own printing facility Createspace, it was with a great deal of ennui that we heard a bullish, however helpful and friendly, American voice urging us toward eBooks publishing, rather than print. Declaring too that last year Borders were forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Amazon created a monster with the specific intention, if you read reports from the US Author’s Guild, of dominating bookselling, then dominating the new platforms and wiping out rivals. Capitalism may take no prisoners, and big publishers are increasingly ruthless too, driving profits with series and bestsellers, but if Amazon cannot see that the closure of Borders is a cultural tragedy, then they have no idea what it is about at all, and that is certainly not just money. A bookshop, a physical space, like a good library, is as much about the joy of interacting, browsing, discovery and allowing all those true things it is about, namely life out there, from flirting to arguing to having an adventure. For authors too there are many negatives about the supposed ‘Democratisation’ of ‘print’ possibility, because culture, real shared culture, takes excellence and is not just some kind of endless white noise.
Perhaps this is just a moment. Perhaps somehow bookshops, Independent and Chain, will resurface, when we are all glutted with eBooks and wonder what happened to human beings, when everyone on earth is working for the machine in a gigantic call centre. The quality of what people read is vital, so champion the story in the E World, but as for those wonderful things on shelves too, the book is dead, long live the book!