Archive for August, 2008

An Absence of Earth, by Dan Krotz

August 30, 2008

Dan Krotz, co-proprietor with Susan Krotz of Sow’s Ear Antiques and Books on the square in Berryville, Arkansas is also editor of a newsletter, “The Ubiquitous Pig.”  IMHO Dan is one of the great thinkers of our day, and he has generously offered to guest blog here:

Treasure House Books in Harrison, Arkansas, closed its doors last week, adding to the Boolean-like body count tabulating the growing absence of non-virtual places where readers can go to fix their book jones.  Since God is wholly Good according to St. Augustine, He cannot have created evil, which is surely what the closing of any small business must be.  Augustine handled this philosophical and theological paradox by calling evil an absence of Good.  “Evil is a hole in the ground,” Augustine said. “It is an absence of earth waiting to be filled with Good.”  Now, there is a hole in the cultural ground of Harrison, Arkansas that wasn’t there before.  I wonder with what Good will fill it.

At the beginning of 2007 there were 19,000 independent bookstores in the United States and, according to the Independent Booksellers Association, they are closing at the rate of about one per day. By the time Susie retires and locks the doors of Books at Sow’s Ear, she may be the last man standing. Maybe that will be too bad.  Maybe that’s just the way it goes.

Students of the book world say the main cause of these little deaths is the dominance of large chains like Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Borders.  Wal-Mart sells a lot of books too, and it probably has a lock on the mass market paperback trade, at least locally it does. “Media,” whatever that is, is also said to play a part: people watch television or get what information they need from the Internet.

I doubt that competition from the big box retailers or the “media” has much to do with it.  I suspect that what’s really going on is that people simply don’t read much anymore.  And they certainly don’t need to buy or read reference books.  Concordances, sets of encyclopedias and the like are so much cord wood these days.  Save your children the trouble and haul them off to the recycling center before its time for you to be recycled.

So who does read these days?  Home schooled children read.  If I sell a copy of Wuthering Heights or Dante’s Inferno, I can bet dollars to dimes that the customer is being home schooled.  Older people read too, and they demonstrate a sometimes breathtaking diversity of interests; books on birds, gardening, mysteries, public policy–all grist for their intellectual mills.  Among our best customers are local pastors who have voracious appetities for Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Karl Barth, and a surprising taste for tough guy crime fiction. I love to see our local vicars stroll in because I know that the coin of the realm follows.

Collectors also comprise a fair percentage of book buyers, but I don’t know if they actually read the books they collect.  On the other hand, I collect a few authors and always buy a good copy to put on the shelf and a tattered copy to read.  My mother used to send me off into the world with two handkerchiefs, “one for show and one for blow” she used to say.  I suppose that’s the way of most collectors.

Today, there is no absence of earth, or bookstores, here in Carroll County.  Gazebo Books in Eureka Springs is our senior most colleague, and the It’s a Mystery bookstore, which opened in May, has joined Sow’s Ear in beautiful downtown Berryville.  That there are three independent bookstores in our little county is a miracle, friends.  We look forward to sharing this miracle with you.

Dan Krotz

202 Public Square, Berryville, Arkansas, 72616


Phhhht, Technology!

August 27, 2008

Well, our phone’s been out again, which means no Internet here, since all we have access to is dial-up.  (This is not by choice, just a fact of life here in the Ozarks.)  What happened this time?   A county mowing crew clearing growth along roads smashed a telephone kiosk serving many customers.      How vulnerable we are, and how isolated I feel when the phone is out or the electricity goes off.  This is especially true since there are no cell towers close enough to give us cell phone service down in the hollow (“holler” in Ozarks-speak) where we live.   Interesting how advancing technology has caused us to depend on rapid communication, when for centuries shared words (and drumming?) were the only means of communication for humans.

Which brings up the technology we’ve been talking about here.  “Technology, and the book in a ‘brave new world!'”   By technology I mean e-books;  Kindle, Sony reader, computer screens, cell phone screens–or even audio books in many varieties.

What about books printed on paper?

I agree with David that electronic books are definitly with us to stay.  But the vulnerability of technology to damage or erasure (whether by road mowing, a wrong keystroke, a tree falling, or an electronic zap from an evil wizard) makes me appreciate books on paper all the more.   Sure they can be burned.  Worms can eat them.  Paper will deteriorate.  But here in my world today, as I walk among my hundreds of books, I think of them as a safe and secure method of communication.  They are…so…CONCRETE!   I look at them and can instantly cherish memories of the stories or facts they offer, and, in many cases,  of the fellow authors I have come to know.  I look at the unread books on my shelves (or stacked somewhere, to be honest) and anticipate pleasure and knowledge.   I look at my blank computer screen and see…nothing.  Then the electric lines or phone lines are repaired and here I am again, putting words on a screen.   I haven’t sorted this out yet, and don’t think I care to try.  I just use the technology that I understand and accept; love my books on paper, and wonder what the future will bring.

Why read books?

August 8, 2008

How many of you have heard that reading among the population of the United States is declining…that fewer and fewer people, especially young people, read books today?  Well, after all (they say) we have television and the Internet, iPods, Blackberries, cell phones, ( and on and on) to communicate with, learn from, and be entertained by………don’t we?   Why waste time with a book?

I imagine most of you are familiar with at least some of the ‘modern inventions’ above.  You know what e-mail and text messaging is like.  Think about that for a moment.

Now, imagine what holding a baby is like.  Picture the baby.  Feel it.  Soft.  Warm.  A bit heavy, maybe like a ten-pound bag of sugar.  Interesting noises and smells.  Love.  Got that image?

Okay.  Think about being in a tornado.  These days, most of us can at least imagine that.  Furious wind.  That famous freight-train sound.  The crack of splintering wood.  Air sucked out of us.  Fear.

Next, think about watching a Fourth of July parade.  The high school band is marching by, playing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” perhaps with more enthusiasm than talent.  But still…..    Heart beating faster.  Tears?

What have you been feeling?   Emotions!

Humans are hard-wired to express and feel emotions.  Sadness, joy, fear, horror, outrage, pride, compassion, joy.  Empathy.   As humans we feel, we respond, we even make decisions based on emotions.  We may decide what is good and true and what is not based on a “gut feeling” which, frankly, is just another way to use and express emotion.  What would human life be like without emotions?   But to get there, something must have the time to touch us, and the time to get inside us far enough to stir responding feelings.   Humans find satisfaction and fulfillment in that.

Personal relationships, experiencing or viewing disaster or triumph–and much more–can awaken varying emotions.  Reading a book can also give us that.  It offers enough time to create and experience emotions.   I think, because of that if nothing else,  books in some form will endure.

What do you think?      Radine