Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I used to catch the train every day. Whether to uni or work, I could rest assured that at least twice a day I would be sardined into a carriage with hundreds of other commuters, most of whom had their heads down, noses buried in a book, newspaper or staring intently at the floor as they bopped their heads to music. Then my work took me to the suburbs and I was forced to drive. Not that much of an issue really, unless like me you are one of those that loves to read and managed to churn through dozens of books a year due to time spent commuting. So I was glad the other day when I caught the train into the city for training and was able to pull out my book and lose myself for half an hour before arrival.
Yet something strange happened. About halfway through my journey I looked up from my book, glanced around and locked eyes with a young man (glasses, red hair and bad skin) who looked down at the book I was reading and nodded with a smile suggesting we had just shared something. At first I stared back at him, trying desperately to figure out if I knew him. Eventually I simply smiled back, hoping that, if I did know him, that he wasn’t going to approach me, because that could have been an awkward conversation. Then his eyes turned back to a book he was reading. The smile he cast me was no ordinary (Crap he noticed I was looking at him, now I have to pretend to be polite) smile. It was definitely a (That’s right, you know what I’m talking about) smile.
I looked at my book, not a common one, few people would have recognised it. Can’t be that, I thought to myself. I now felt a little awkward. Was there something on my face? Maybe it was a (You have absolutely no idea that you have nutella all the way up your cheek!) smile. Damn it! Now there was no chance of me getting lost in my book again. I had to figure out what had just happened. I looked around, the train was jam packed, people pressed up against each other, most of them scowling at the inconvenience. Then I noticed something else.
Of the sample of people in my carriage, within eyeshot, at least two thirds had their eyes glued to their phones or a tablet. Not unusual these days, but then I thought about it a little more, I glanced around again and that’s when noticed something. Of the people I could see, there were only two people with a paperback novel in their hands. Myself and the friendly stranger. Could that be it? He had looked down at my book and then smiled with a nod. Maybe he was acknowledging the fact that we were part of a slowly dying breed. The individuals who elected to read real paper books on the train.
Is our species endangered? Now I couldn’t take my mind off the topic. I recalled my days travelling to uni on the train, there had definitely been more paperbacks and less tablets/phones. Not that this is by any means a bad thing, there are pro’s and con’s for both ebooks and traditional paper books, and I myself enjoy both formats. That being said I realised that having worked in the suburbs for some time now, I had become more attuned to this rapid shift in our society. Much as you will not notice small changes to a persons appearance if you see them every day, when I was commuting every day, I was oblivious to the change in consumer behaviour. Stepping back into that world after an extended absence, I was caught by the stark change.
There is a dramatic revolution occurring in the publishing industry, with more authors turning to digital publication and self publishing. Will the trade paperback see further decline on our trains? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a physical bookstore, the rise of websites such as the Book Depository has driven them into hiding. Perhaps that red haired stranger and I are the last remnants of the traditionalists, dinosaurs who haven’t learnt to take their iPad’s on the train.
As I caught the train home that night, I spotted a few more paperbacks on my carriage and breathed a slight sigh of relief. There are still a few of us left.