Maralyn Lois Polak • Operation Itch Contributing Writer
©2009 ML Polak
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The other week I walked into a cozy and inviting second-hand bookstore called the Last Word near the Penn campus in West Philadelphia while waiting for a movie to start around the corner. That’s how it is these days for books — no longer the main event, now relegated to the sidelines. And I’m what passes for a Book Person. I buy books from, whenever possible, independent bookstores rather than chains. I read books cover to cover, savoring each word. I write books. Sometimes they even get published.
The salesclerk, a pleasant 40-ish woman, and I begin chatting. We share our mutual loathing of those new-fangled wireless electronic book–reader-thingees like Kindle – think iPods for books– retailing for $359. You can even order them pre-loaded with hundreds of book titles. I compare them to vibrators — you might think you’re getting sex, but it’s sure not human!
But oh, the mindless blather touting this devilish device! ”Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel has a long tradition of nurturing the literary-minded — Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, even Harpo Marx hung out there in its heyday. Keeping up with the times, the folks running the Algonquin today apparently still have literature on their minds, and are offering Amazon’s Kindle pre-loaded with a book of their choice for guests of the hotel during their stay…” burbles the website Switched-dot-com.
We both agree battery-powered books seem a crime against nature.
“People like the feel of real books, the smell of books,” the salesclerk declares fervently. “They like to touch them. They like to carry books with them wherever they go. Books are already portable. You can read them anywhere. Books are, in their way, comforting.”
Certainly books are the low-tech solution to the reading process. Here’s hoping actual books — and public gathering-places to read them like libraries — never go out of style. If only Philly’s Mayor could have been there to participate in our conversation, maybe he’d have second thoughts about his misguided –and potentially dangerous – threat to shut 11 neighborhood library branches to eliminate some red ink in the city’s way-out-of-whack budget.
Doesn’t the Mayor know books are magical? Isn’t he aware books can change lives, young and old, forever? Doesn’t he realize books are a passport to the Imagination Unlimited?
And, instead of privatizing some of the city’s libraries in poor neighborhoods, as he may now do, why not simply eliminate 10-year real estate tax abatements extended to rich, powerful corporate interests instead.
Here’s a city with one of the highest murder rates in America, yet so short-sighted as to even consider closing nearly a dozen libraries, which function as cultural community centers. Boy, how dumb — and bogus — can you be? Libraries are incredibly important to people of all ages. They can be safe, quiet places to do homework after school. They can be places to use computers, thus helping conquer the Digital Divide for impoverished families. They can be places to do research, seek intellectual enrichment, attend lectures, movies, workshops, or even socialize. Think about it. And then rescind the order to shutter those libraries.
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