08 December 2011

When a Bookstore Was Just a Bookstore, and a Phone Was Just a Phone

The eight Hawaiian islands rise magnificently from a warm blue sea 2,390 miles and five hours from the coast of California. They are beautiful, peaceful, isolated, struggling with problems both environmental and human, but also beautiful, peaceful, and isolated.

On this visit we packed at least 25 pounds of books, causing – by their weight alone – the islands to further slip under the pounding Pacific. We observed that many readers have converted to Kindles and E-Readers of various kinds, thus reducing the cost of checking overweight suitcases.

In action the Kindle from Amazon looked dull and gray, like my hair; the IPad bright and shiny, like my hair used to look. One user told me gray E-Ink is easier to read than a full-color screen, but I wouldn’t know, not having read from either for hours on end.

Too many island visitors look to Amazon as their first choice in books and electronic reading. This is a sad mistake, for a number of reasons, but in Hawaii it’s sort of understandable.

We visited Talk Story Bookstore, “The Western-Most Bookstore in the United States!” on Hanapepe Road in Hanapepe, Kauai (“Welcome to Hanapepe – Hawaii’s Biggest Little Town”). It’s run by Ed and Cynthia Justus. Ed was away, serving on the County Council. Cynthia was there. Periodically she called out to customers lost in the stacks: “Hello There! Aloha! We have lots of sections here, just ask if you need anything!” and we wandered about, looking for mindless spy novels to add to our collection of mindless spy novels.

At Talk Story authors are divided by sex: Female writers to the left, by the windows, male writers to the right. On their website Cynthia explains, “The reason why is every day someone comes in and asks, ‘Do you have a book by....’ and they go, ‘I don’t remember the author’s name, but he,’ or ‘I don’t remember the name of the author, but she,’ and now we’ve got 50 per cent, and we’re able to sell them a book.”

I had to wonder what they did with names like Georges Sand, or Dusty Rhodes, or Robin, Whitney, Storm, Piper, Montana, Kai, Avery – male? female? How would you know?

Talk Story is not only the westernmost bookstore on Kauai, it’s the only-est one, too. Over the years other small bookstores, new and used, have dropped away. This year the last remaining store, Borders Books & Music, disappeared into bankruptcy after 16 years on the island. This left a large empty building at the Kukui Grove Center in Lihue, and unemployed about 40 booksellers.

Talk Story bought up some Borders shelving, making their crowded store even more crammed. It was poetically perfect recycling, and we applaud them for their initiative and their obvious success. Talk Story is a community gathering spot and a venue for musical events that take place on the sidewalk just outside.

It was island superstores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble that drove out the smaller independents. When the giants decide to close, it’s not easy for smaller stores to come back.

We walked around in the warm, moist air, fantasizing about starting a new books bookstore on Kauai. We would fill it full of the latest and bestest and hire only the smartest booksellers.

And when people walked around our store taking smartphone photos of books they planned to buy later online, we’d sigh, and murmur Aloha! and dream of the days when a bookstore was just a bookstore, and a phone was just a phone.


Talk Story Bookstore 

1 comment:

paul in davis said...

Hawaii is truly a deserted island for book lovers. I think the only places left to buy a book are Costco and Longs Drugs...and probably the bookstore at the Univ. of Hawaii.

If you open that bookstore on Kauai, I'll retire and work there for free....unless you decide to shelve books by the author's gender.

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