Are we the only ones more than a little bummed that Oprah is writing off books in favor of Amazon's electronic reader Kindle? Our dear Kelly called the other day in a huff while watching an episode of the book diva's show. She filed this report:
I am a fan of Oprah, however guilty it makes me feel. I have watched her for years as I pick up the house and juggle children. Last week I turned on my television and was teased with the promise of one of Oprah's favorite things — usually something I might find intriguing if not a bit whimsical. But then I was blindsided by a half-hour infomercial about the Amazon Kindle and how it's the best thing that has ever happened to literature. By the end of her spiel — including a gleeful plug by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, who could barely get a word in during Oprah's jubilant tirade about his product — I was nearly convinced that not only was Kindle the only way to read a book, but that I would be saving the planet and helping my financial status by using it. Oh, but wait. I own a bookstore, an independent that my husband and I started from scratch, relocating our fledgling family to the Mississippi Delta, taking a huge chance on our future because we had seen how wonderful an asset a bookstore can be to a community after living in Oxford, Mississippi, with one of the best bookstores in the country, Square Books.
Then I felt rage that Oprah could so blatantly disregard the wonderful independents across the United States that have been a safe-house for so many communities, a think tank for like-minded people and a starting ground for young readers, not to mention ardent supporters of her book club, even when certain writers were not. As I stated earlier, our store is located in the Mississippi Delta, and a $400 electronic book is not economically approachable for most of our population, nor do I believe for one second that the impersonal feeling of a computer tablet can take the place of a crisp, new book being cracked open for a long, languid read.
I would like to believe that the independent bookstore is not an endangered species, but too often these days I hear of solid, wonderful, meaningful stores going under in this new economy, and I won't lie that it has me a bit scared. If stores in vibrant communities can't support their independents, then what chance does my family have to keep our bookstore afloat in one that's still growing?
I can see why the Kindle is enticing. It is a gadget. I love gadgets, and for those who can afford it, I can see the use in having this while traveling, or hell, just for the fun of it. But to disregard an industry that is about more than just the product, a book, is thoughtless and reckless, and to transfer the power to only one company (Amazon) is nothing short of insane. Do we want Amazon to have the power to tell publishers what is more marketable and what they should be producing? Would Oprah's book club choice for this month have even been published if they were in charge? (How marketable is a story told from the perspective of a dog and a deaf boy?) Oprah has a huge sway over millions of people, and with that power comes great responsibility. On this occasion, she seems to have acted irresponsibly, in this bookseller's mind.