Rainbow: Digital books can never replace the real thing

If "You've Got Mail" had a sequel, it would be all about Meg Ryan comforting Tom Hanks while his chain of superstores went bankrupt.
I wish I knew what she would say — I could use some comforting. This has been a tough week for people who love books.
Not for people who love reading. Reading is alive and well ...
But if you love books — real, touchable, smellable, page-turnable books — it was a painful blow to hear that Borders would be closing all of its book supercenters, including three popular Omaha-area stores.
I thought immediately of the small bookstores Borders helped crush a decade ago.
Those deaths seemed so inevitable at the time. Remember Hanks' character in the big-box romantic comedy, "You've Got Mail"?
"We are going to seduce them. We're going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs ... We're going to sell them cheap books and legal addictive stimulants."
How could the Little Professor compete with that?
Ironically, Borders's demise now feels just as inevitable. ...
How could Borders compete with the deep discounts, deep armchairs and stimulants of all kinds that you can find in your own home? It was death by wearing pajamas/drinking Baileys/shopping for books at 3 a.m.
Conventional wisdom says that Borders died because it couldn't get the Internet right. Borders doesn't have a great online shop or its own e-reader. ... A brick-and-mortar bookstore can't stay alive these days just by selling ink-and-paper books.
Back when the independents died (not all of them — never surrender, Bookworm!), it didn't feel like a threat to books themselves.
Book lovers could still surround themselves with books — more books than ever — at the nearest Barnes & Noble. (Which was also the first Omaha Starbucks. So alluring. When Barnes & Noble opened, it was like having a dangerous new boyfriend.)
But the death of Borders feels like a mortal wound to books themselves. If a bookstore can't stay alive by selling lots of cheap books, what does that say about books?
"I haven't been in a bookstore since I got my Kindle for Christmas."
My editor said that Wednesday when I was pitching this column, and it sent a chill up my spine.
I wasn't going to argue with her — there's no fighting awesome technology. I have a Kindle, too, and it's fantastic.
I can't find my charger ... still, it's fantastic, especially when I'm traveling or when I desperately want to buy a sequel in the middle of the night.
But I would still rather read a book.
I've had too many laptops and memory cards and mobile phones fail over the years to trust e-books. ... I like the convenience of digital, but I want the permanence of real books. I want to know that my books are there for me absolutely, always, barring fire or water damage.
Even when I buy an e-book, if I end up loving it, I buy the hard copy, too. So I can have it. So it can be a part of my life from now on. (This is also why I still print all my photos. The digital world is lovely, but I want the red pill, not the blue one.)
I hate to think of a world where I don't have that option.
Do you remember that "Twilight Zone" episode where the book lover lives through the H-bomb and then breaks his glasses in the library? "Time Enough at Last," it was called.
That show is the reason I want to have laser eye surgery.
Whenever I think about my life falling apart, I think (really, I think this), "Well, at least I'll be able to read. I might be an unemployed shut-in, but at least I'll have books."
My fallback plan depends on the existence and survival of books.
Not e-books. If that "Twilight Zone" episode were to be made today, the protagonist would have a Kindle and nowhere to plug it in.
Here's what I'm really hoping now ...
I'm not glad that Borders failed; I'm especially sad for all the wonderful people who worked there.
But I'm hoping that we really miss it. I'm hoping that it reminds us how much we like bookstores — and how much we really, really appreciate booksellers.
In my "You've Got Mail" sequel, Meg Ryan lovingly comforts Tom Hanks — then decides to reopen The Shop Around the Corner.
Because the one thing Amazon can't beat a brick-and-mortar store on is humanity.
There is still nothing like standing in a room full of books, talking to another human being who loves them as much as you do.
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