AFTER a weekend at the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association annual trade show, Sept. 28-30, I’m feeling both chastened and encouraged about the future of the book trade and American literacy.
Last year’s trade show filled two exhibit halls at the Denver Tech Marriott Convention Center. This year we filled one hall. The decline worries me.
Most of the primary national and regional book publishers and distributors were represented, each offering their latest titles to independent and chain booksellers in the Rocky Mountain states, from Montana and the Dakotas south through Utah, Wyoming and Colorado down to Arizona and New Mexico.
The show offered a cross-section of the publishing industry today. Book titles on display ranged from nonfiction public affairs books like mine (Global Sense) to cookbooks to mainstream fiction to children’s books. The high-quality writing and book designs, even from the small regional presses, would impress the most jaded veteran New York literati.
My chief concern was that fewer than 300 retail bookselling ventures attended the trade show. In past years, there would have been more than a thousand. Why the decline?
One obvious reason is that there are fewer bookstores today than in times past. Only half of all adults read books, and I’m told that estimate may be high. More people watch TV and sit before computers screens (as you are doing now) than sit with a book in their laps.
Another reason may be the dumbing down of America. Sometimes I feel convinced that dark forces in society actively oppose human enlightenment. An illiterate, under-educated or under-informed populace is easier to control. Other times I remind myself that global enlightenment is inevitable (given current trends) so we’re really seeing the tyrants’ desperate last stand, trying to forestall the liberation of humanity.
What I do know is that some of the brightest minds in the West gathered in Denver this weekend. While it’s not fair to say this was the greatest concentration of intellect since Thomas Jefferson dined alone, I do feel safe in saying the conversations this weekend uplifted my heart with hope.
As long as free minds can read good books and discuss them openly, we can feel hope for the future of democracy.