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This afternoon, Vicki and I stumbled upon the 1998 film, “You’ve Got Mail,” which I’d remembered capturing the discovery of email as an intimate yet secretive new form of communication. But what the film really brought back is how much I miss the big box bookstores, which were then ascendant, as well as the more personal small stores they were replacing.

I recalled growing up with the likes of Kroch and Brentanos in Chicago, a high-quality small store where the best in books and bookish advice could be had, then the advent of Rizzoli’s in Water Tower Place, where they carried beautiful collectible photo and art books, and where I would spend hours soaking them up. When they closed, I recall stopping by Rizzoli’s original store whenever I got to NYC, to again wade among the wonderful books there.

And then there is Barnes and Noble, where I’ve enjoyed the coffee and croissants and magazines and book browsing ever since. When we run off to Naples in Florida in the winter, once we run out of beach and shops to visit, which is pretty fast, we always wind up at Barnes and Noble, wandering among the comfortable rows of books and magazines, and sipping coffee and rolls in the cafe.

Now, in 2016, it seems all the bookstores are increasingly disappearing — both the wonderful big stores and the charming small ones they replaced. I hear that millennials don’t care much for books — one has to find a place to keep them and everything is available online. I guess we are of another time. I have two small libraries of books, one at our Chicago apartment and another at our Wisconsin lodge, and another four rooms between the two places with bookshelves aplenty. As I wrote in a recent essay for the Chicago Literary Club, my books are like walls of old friends. Like old friends, they offer familiar retreats into good times and wisdom, plus new revelations, given a closer look.

Books I’ve read many times, and those as yet unread, all get my respect. Occasionally we sort out the wheat from the chaff among our collections, but, just like the now familiar internet and the ever-present Google-gate to knowledge, books continue to offer insight and intelligence unmatched except by the best of friends. And I miss those increasingly scarce bookstores, like those operated by Meg Ryan and Tom hanks in the movie, like so many homes away from home.

August 2017
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