This was the last day of the retreat, which has the goal of arriving with a work in progress and leaving with a finished paper. Some people do this. The Yankee did this, though she said there is a bit of editing to do, which is terrific.
My project, which had something of a learning curve involved, isn’t finished, but is probably two-thirds of the way there. A few more long sessions of concentrated effort could get the thing to the editing stage. So that’s progress.
After things wrapped up this evening we stopped to smell the roses:
We went to Portland’s International Rose Test Garden — the sun stays up until about 9 p.m. out here this time of year, so we took advantage of the daylight to do one last bit more of sight-seeing. Some 700 varieties over more than 4 acres, including annual winners dating back to the 1940s. Neat place, and you can find more here.
When you start telling people you’re about to go to Portland they tell you “Oh, you have to go to Powell’s!”
You don’t go to cities and have folks tell you to visit a bookstore often, so you pay attention. With good reason; Powell’s is unique. It is a regional chain, but the original spans a city block, has two buildings, mixes new and used and is full of sensory overload. (Likely no one knows how many titles are in the Powell’s system.) There’s that beautiful pulp smell and also the feeling you get when you walk into a big cave — you’re inside, but everything is oversized enough to suggest you’re outside, and yet, there’s a roof over your head.
Seeing Powell’s was great, but also it made me a bit sad. I keep my Amazon wishlist as a way to keep track of books I want to pick up one day. I checked that list against every book Powell’s had in stock. Every great-looking book that caught my eye on the shelves I looked up on Amazon. Powell’s lost every time. They got close in one book, after you figured in shipping and handling, but that was it. (I was not really shopping today, this was a tourist trip because I’m not lugging books across the country, but I did add a few things to my eventual reading list.)
The used books at Powell’s are mixed in with the new, but they are high quality used books. And, at Powell’s, you can buy a quality used hardback for the price of a new paperback. But you can buy the same book for pennies on the dollar online.
Still, aside from the joy of being in a bookstore, and the random chance of discovering some gem on sale or an intriguing book cover, it is difficult to find a book that is cheaper in a store now. And that makes me a bit sad. Borders, which had been using a flawed business model for years, it seems, is as symbolic as it is as damaging to an industry. Shame so many people lost their jobs in that company’s demise, but as an indicator of change it is just as unfortunate. So there will be less distribution, thus fewer books, and fewer publishers pushing new authors (self publish!) and prices will go up and quality will go down a smidge.
We’re buying digital versions of media or not consuming them at all anymore. As such that atmosphere that we’re losing is also painful to contemplate. This is relative. When record stores went away we mourned, moved on and bought the new stuff in malls and online. After a while you forget the feeling. I fell out of my biggest music habits just as the digital download became the medium. When newspapers and television finally had to grudgingly accept the notion that there might be something to this online thing, I was already working there. In time, people will overlook the psychic benefits they once received from the old style in favor of their new cerebral download of water skiing squirrel features they get daily.
On books, I’m old school. I buy actual books online and have them shipped to my home because I like books. I like shelves and art and big fonts and running my fingers along those beautiful spines to find the tome I want. I like my own little personal library. I sincerely want a home library stacked so high I need a library ladder on rails to reach the top shelf. At the risk of sounding old, I can’t get that in a digital reader.
A bookstore as big as a city block can’t compete with a warehouse jammed to the rafters in a cornfield somewhere who can get me that book before the weekend. There’s little hope for bookstores. Which means books are in bigger trouble from the model than from their formatic opposition like Kindles and iPads.
See DVDs, Blockbuster and Netflix.
There will always be a need for some of these type places. Just fewer of them, and farther between. My argument for why I could live in the middle of nowhere so long as they had a decent grocery store (and good Internet) is because you can get anything shipped. (Arts, culture and medicine, as a service and experience, seem to be the biggest outliers.) But, then, maybe this changes things:
Falling mail volume and soaring red ink may soon doom Saturday mail delivery and prompt three-day-a-week delivery within 15 years, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe warns.
Donahoe wasn’t specific about how soon he would like to reduce service but said he thinks Congress, struggling with the federal budget, will be more open to the idea now. He said a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll last year helped move the discussion along. More than half of those polled had no problem with losing Saturday mail.
The Postal Service estimates the move would save $3.1 billion a year.
So pick your spots ship on Monday for a Friday arrival, I guess, or hoof it to town.
Also, in that same piece: “On Sept. 30,” he told the USA TODAY editorial board Tuesday, “I won’t be able to pay my bills.”
Better leave your mail person a tip.
We had dinner at Good Taste, an almost-dive in Chinatown. It was very good. This was my fortune: