Barnes & Noble isn’t near dead, but a lot of writers are lining up to lament its passing. They say the chain’s demise would be a blow to books, especially in suburban America.
Last week, Barnes & Noble announced that it would close about 20 stores each year over the next decade, leaving at least 450 stores (before the Great Recession struck, the chain had 726). Suddenly, the book behemoth, once seen as responsible (with its vanquished foe, Borders) for the demise of many an independent bookstore, is being celebrated for its contribution to book culture.
“But then, as now, Barnes & Noble had its place,” Mark Athitakis writes in the New Republic, remembering when the chain was spreading through American suburbia. “Its stores were designed to keep people parked for a while, for children’s story time, for coffee klatches, for sitting around and browsing.… It brought literary culture to pockets of the country that lacked them.”
To a landscape of bowling alleys and bars and malls with ample parking but few good novels, Barnes & Noble brought shelves stacked with the literary canon and also a place to hang out, Athitakis writes. Now Starbucks has brought the hangout to middle and working America — but not the books.