I was pleasantly surprised by my book signing event this past weekend at Barnes and Noble in El Paso. Not just by the fact that I have "groupies" (thank you to the Father Yermo High School Class of 1985, my "sistas"... you all totally rock!), not just by the fact that a major book retailer agreed to host a new, unknown, indie book author, not just by the fact that I actually sold quite a few books.
What pleased and surprised me most was the fact that people--a LOT of people--were buying books. While I saw a few customers head to the checkout line with a game or toy, the majority had books in their hands. And, yes, that's plural, as in, more than one book.
True, a few were students clutching Sparks notes on Shakespeare and books on algebra and calculus and how to take the ACT, but many were folks buying novels. It would appear that the panic caused a while back with the advent of e-readers has somewhat abated and that, contrary to the doomsayers, electronic reading devices have NOT sounded the death knell of printed paper books or bookstores.
What was truly heartening was the number of young people--under the age of twenty, down into single-digit ages--who were purchasing books. Paul, who is the most excellent PR man, was directing customers at the door to my book table, luring them in with a free promo bookmark and an invitation to go talk to an actual author. The younger ones approached shyly, only speaking up when prompted by a parent, "Tell her you want to be a writer, too," but they blossomed when I asked them what they liked to write and gave them some encouragement. I, too, was once that 10-year-old who wrote stories in secret (unless they were assigned for English class) and dreamed that maybe someday my name would be on the cover of a book that contained a story I had made up. Now, seeing my younger self standing in front of me, wide-eyed, I wanted to be that writer that I always wanted to talk to, the one that wouldn't give me an indulgent smile and a pat on the head, but the one that would tell me, "Go for it," and give me a thumbs up. They walked away with a huge smile, clutching their bookmark which was signed by "a real, live author", and their heads a little higher. It was worth more to me than a book sale.
Because I'm pretty sure that those 10-year-olds weren't swiping the screen on an e-reader when the writing bug bit them. They were running their fingers over words strung together on a page and imagining their own words on a printed page, their own characters telling their own story, and picturing someone, much like themselves, many years into the future taking that book off a library or bookstore shelf, and joining them in the world they created.
E-readers may make reading more convenient; it would certainly make taking a couple dozen books on vacation a lot easier and less weighty. But printed paper books evoke a sense of timelessness, carrying on the dreams and words of the author down through the ages. You might read Dickens and Austen or Tolkien on an e-reader and never feel the connection you get when you feel the weight of the book, smell the crisp "new book" scent or the mustiness of well-worn, yellowed pages, or see the inscriptions jotted on the title page (sometimes the author's own signature) and the notes scribbled in the margins.
And you never have to worry about power outages.
Abe Lincoln reading in "An Evening in a Log Hut" by Eastman Johnson... without electricity!