Eva Bradley: Books have sad last chapter

By Eva Bradley

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A bookshop is to this century what a spinning wheel was to the last.
A bookshop is to this century what a spinning wheel was to the last.

Yesterday something quite extraordinary happened. I got an invitation to the opening of a bookshop. I could hardly have been more surprised if it were an invitation to the Oscars. A bookshop is to this century what a spinning wheel was to the last.

As the internet and digitisation continues, it's steady march of expansion across our social landscape, paper and what goes on it really is becoming a thing of the past.

It's not until we stop to consider how long ago the "pen" was first picked up that we realise how significant it is to be living in a time when it is quite decisively being put down.

Crude drawings by cavemen and etched out hieroglyphics in Egypt show just how enduring a message can be when pen is put to paper (or burnt stick to wall). I suspect thousands of years hence, future humans might stumble across a Macbook Pro, a little like the one I'm currently writing on, see the power adapter is no longer current and simply move on, leaving swathes of history abandoned.

Bookshops and newspapers are, in my mind, the last bastion of enduring communication. They represent something that should be permanent but no longer is. When was the last time you bought a book? And I don't mean a digital download for your Kindle or even a real book ordered online. I mean when did you last wander, without script, among the shelves of a real bookshop, where the promise of inspiration and escape lay beneath your fingertips as you ran them along the bumpy spines?

Do you remember the indecision that came from so many colourful choices and compelling blurbs?

Buying a real book was an investment - not just of money (a printed book costing easily four times the price of a downloaded one) but of precious space on your bookshelf - a good book isn't just something you buy, it's something you adopt and give a home to. Although I've turned out many books from my home in recent years, I have a set of dog-eared favourites (poetry books from English 101, my complete set of Marian Keyes chick-lit) that I pick up fondly now and again and look upon as old friends.

While many people may not yet relate to the bookless dystopia I'm describing, for me it has already arrived. It's just too cheap, too easy and too instant to download books digitally.

Just like it's easier to "like" a friend's photo on Facebook in lieu of picking up the phone and calling them.

Book-buying has become yet another victim of "improvements" in technology. Even our most established bookshops have emptied many of their shelves to make way for activities, gifts and games.

But the retailers are not to blame. Not even the technology is, it's just our enabler.

The fault lies with how effortlessly we can be persuaded to change habits of many lifetimes in favour of an easier, cheaper path.

When we don't have to leave the couch to buy a book, and the cost of doing so is minimal, we don't invest skin in the game. We don't value the product, or what it represents.

If reading books becomes a dying tradition, it will take our imagination with it. Then all we'll be left with is updates from The Bachelor on our news apps.

Amid these fears, a bookshop opening is like an oasis in a desert. I'm usually a little lazy when it comes to attending events, but this is one I'm making a beeline for, just in case it's my last.

- Eva Bradley is a photographer and columnist

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