The stories of the financial problems with Israel’s Steimatzky bookstores seem to have fallen off the radar almost as soon as the blip hit the screen. (Of course, considering the timing of this news, that’s no surprise.) But I didn’t miss it. You see, despite the rocket’s red glare, we lovers of book shops like to keep a close eye on such things.
This is because there is a bigger problem surrounding the troubles of our iconic Steimatzky’s, and only a small part of it is the possible domino effect this might have on other chains in Israel. People like me have long been worrying that the many enjoyable hours we’ve spent wandering around towering stacks of books could soon become a thing of the past. We’ve already seen whole chains with hundreds of shops go under, and others now teetering on the brink, and that’s scary.
Yes, yes, most on-line shops deliver to Israel, and there are even some that don’t charge an arm and a leg for shipping. But that’s not the point. There’s just nothing like meandering around a book shop. The scent of the pulp and crisp glossy covers is practically intoxicating. There is pure joy in the act of reaching out for a book by an author you’ve never heard of, and it doesn’t matter if you’re immediately enticed or repelled. There’s also the thrill of looking for new (or previous) books by writers you’ve enjoyed in the past. I particularly like it when a shop has those tiny recommendation notes by written by staff or customers. This is a pastime that can take up hours of a day without my ever noticing the time go by. And I never feel the least bit tired until after I’ve walked out of the store delightfully weighed down by a stack of new discoveries (and with a woefully empty wallet).
You see, I will never get that feeling when I’m scrolling through a website, bombarded by a list of recommendations, spewed at me via an algorithm made up of my clicks and purchase history. Sure, I have found some books that way, but it just isn’t the same. I’m sure some of you will disagree, and I even had an argument with someone about this only a few months ago. What shocked me was their argument. They didn’t try to sway me with reasons of convenience or availability or even progress. No, I was told – in no uncertain terms – that if I preferred to find new authors and books by wandering around bookstores, that I was doing it all wrong. Say, WHAT?
Go ahead, accuse me of being a hopeless romantic, and I’ll happily plead guilty as charged. I just hope that the day never comes when the world is devoid of the good, old-fashioned, mortar-and-brick stores filled with all those lovely books that, of course, I’ll never have enough time to read!