A good bike ride does the heart good

Yesterday I had a random Friday off and decided to take a bike ride in the morning while the weather was still cool (around 70ish).  I’d never biked north of Ketchum on the highway before for fear of too much traffic, too little shoulder, too much wind, too much altitude gain and so on.  But I have a coworker who bikes to work and back EVERY DAY from 7 miles north on his cruiser while listening to books on tape.  The fact that he could do this every day and often times at night inspired me to try.  My goal was to make it the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters, 7.5 miles north of town.

Riding up the wind was against me, trucks were driving by, and I was slowly gaining several hundred feet in elevation.  I found myself keeping my head down and charging forward, wondering what the next good turn around spot would be.  I was only halfway to the SNRA at this point.  But then, as magically happens when we are out walking or biking about, I looked up at the narrowing valley around me and was amazed.  I drive on this road frequently, but to move through the same space at a different pace and literally closer to the land makes for a very different experience.  I’ve felt this way often when riding my bike, and it’s why I love it so much.

I was especially inspired to view my ride this way after meeting Colum McCann last week, an author who spoke about his cross-country bike ride several years ago and about all of the wonderful experiences that he wouldn’t have had had he been making the same trip in a car.

Taking his perspective into mind, I realized how beautiful the morning light on the yellow sage-covered hills was, and felt a deep sense of peace as I examined it all at a biker’s pace.  Unlike while hiking, I didn’t have to watch where my feet were falling at every step (I stumble constantly while hiking because I’m always gaping at my surroundings, which can make for very slow hiking); I simply had to keep my bike in a straight line, which is something that I’ve fortunately gotten very good at.   And don’t worry, the shoulder wasn’t too tiny anyway, and the traffic barely bothered me once I began to enjoy my ride so much.  I only wished that I had a cruiser so that I could sit back and enjoy the views.

On the question of the relevancy of bookstores

Clearly, I am going to say that nothing could be more relevant than a physical space in which people can meet, explore new books, talk about books, and be exposed to titles and authors that they would never find online.  There have been a lot of articles lately about Borders closing down, the end of brick-and-mortar as we know it and so on and so on.  It’s very possible, I admit, that bookstores will someday be gone.  That will be a terrible blow to the book world I think, just like it was to the recording world.  In that realm a lot of folks have made up for the lack of diversity caused by letting powerhouse companies control the industry (as will happen when Amazon and possibly Barnes and Noble rule the world).  Efforts made by the little people have kept smaller, more interesting musicians going even though they don’t get radio time.  I think that the same will happen with books–the same ones will be hammered in our faces anytime we get on Amazon to see what’s new (just like you always hear the same music whenever you turn on the radio), but there will at least be people creating independent sites and blogs to help the rest of us discover the wonderful “non-bestsellers.”

Not that I’m in favor of everything going digital at all, I hate the idea.  Anyone who reads my blog can see how rarely I am on here–I’d much rather write a entry in my leather bound journal.  Not because I don’t want you to read it, but because I enjoy being involved and absorbed in a physical space.  Certainly it’s wonderful and intriguing how we can submit our ideas to the world and commune online–that has it’s benefits–but for that to be my entire life is an utterly depressing thought.  And I don’t think that that is an old-fashioned idea.  I want to live my life with my head up, looking around and noticing things, talking to people, looking them in the eye, being aware of my physical surroundings–whether I am reading, writing, speaking, listening, watching–not having my head down trying to keep up with the world online. I want to leave my house and experience life.

In short, I know where things are headed for books and the other forms I love, but I don’t think that they have to go there 100%.  I enjoy curating an independent bookstore and talking to my customers too much to believe that what everyone really wants is to save $2 and read a popular book that has no relevance to them.

Here is a quote from an article from NPR’s Monkey See blog that starting bringing these things to mind for me today:

“Bookstores are very special places, even the behemoths. They provide a space for cultural dilettantism. You can get lost in them for hours, perusing covers and picking up obscure titles. They are dedicated to discovery and are curated by some of the most dedicated retail employees around (even to get hired at a large corporate chain, one is still required to exhibit a sharp passion for reading).

Small bookstores may be celebrating Borders’ demise (Nora Ephron reference: the Shop Around the Corner finally has a shot against Fox Books!), but they also know that this is a sign that these are the hardest of times. Bookstores are fighting for their lives, day in and day out. Only the most relevant, vibrant, dynamic, essential, committed, nimble, involved and enticing independents will survive the e-book tsunami. Independents are prepared to be all of those things — far better than a giant organization like Borders was — but they need to bring a lot of ammunition.”

This is obviously the goal for any of us in the indie book business right now: be vibrant and original, create yourself as a place for people to gather and for authors to visit, make yourself an institution that a city’s soul would die without.  And it can be done, but I promise you that it is extremely hard work every single day.  And we are not celebrating Border’s demise, but instead learning from their mistakes.  We don’t want bookstores to go away either, even if they are our competition.  We aren’t overzealous capitalists, obviously (why would we be in this business if we were?).  We are book-lovers, and we want people to read and explore, and the demise of any bookstore is a terrible blow to us and to everything that we are committed to upholding.