WAB! Not the sound a superhero's fist makes when she punches a jellyfish, but Writers and Books in Rochester, New York. I read there last night--good reading, good crowd, great acoustics, fun intro by Steve Huff, great lead-off by the delightful Sarah Freligh. But beyond the reading itself, I think WAB is an important place: the y in an important equation.
You know how every ten or fifteen minutes we hear about another landmark independent bookstore closing? And how also the chains are mostly in the shitter too? And how in six weeks, the Kindle is going to be as ubiquitous as the Ipod? How this coming September it will be as necessary a part of the going-to-college kit as a laptop and a 72-pack of strawberry flavored condoms? And once we're buying almost everything on line (like we do now, but more so) what chance will an actual book-selling-type-building have?
(Full disclosure: it's not that I think the Kindle will be bad for books, or writers, or readers--I think it will end up being, on balance, quite good for all those things and people. But it's really going to suck for bookstores. And I do worry a little about what happens when Amazon is the only place on earth to buy any text of any kind in any language, but hey, that's still years away. At least a year. Probably at least a year!) (And another disclosure: these thoughts were not developed in isolation, but in conversation, mainly with the good John Warner. So if any of them are crap, blame him.)
Maybe bookstores are going to survive to the extent that they become other things too. Lots already are, of course. Most, even. But maybe they will all need to be other things--a community space, a place of union, whether that means gallery and/or stage and/or mixing board and/or cafe and/or dunk tank. And then also sell books. (Which is why WAB is the y, not the x and the y: they don't actually sell books there, except ones related to visiting writers, writing classes, reading projects and the like.)
And even then the books sold will have to be the kind that bring something to the table beyond content--but I'm still thinking about that.