It was with great sadness that I recently learned of the planned closing of Choctaw Books in Jackson.
It was also with a flash of realization that I’m part of the problem; part of the reason for its closing.
I might as well help owner Fred Smith lock the doors on his last day on September 30 after more than 30 years in business.
I fall into the category of young Americans who are old enough to remember when cell phones were just phones but young enough to appreciate Twitter.
My generation is why Choctaw Books is closing. It’s the Digital Age.
When we read (notice I said when), we pick up our phones, tablets or log onto the Internet. Most of us buy magazines sparingly and never pick up a newspaper. Most of the “content” or “media” we gather is picked up electronically.
Instead of libraries we have iPads. Instead of a pile of books by the bed, we have a plugged in Kindle.
Need a phone book? Nah, we’ve got Google.
It’s a miracle that when we do clumsily pick up a book that we don’t immediately get a gashing paper cut and collapse into a pool of blood.
Bookstores? What are those?
Sure, I love supporting the local small bookshop but honestly that’s just for infrequent bouts of nostalgia, like going to the State Fair or Canton at Christmas.
I spend most of my time on Amazon.com buying new or used books at “gently read” rock-bottom prices. I’ve even “bird-dogged” the big box retailers like Barnes & Noble taking pictures with my iPhone of new releases then finding them cheaper online.
I still remember the good ole days before the gadgets and when you only needed the Internet for homework.
Back then, when my parents used to drive my brother and I up from Brookhaven to Jackson to see the grandparents, we would usually stop at Choctaw Books and leave with boxes of literary loot.
The little house on North Street was built on a small rise that made parking in the driveway awkward. For security, Fred had a tall iron fence built around the house that he would chain shut every night.
Inside, the cluttered aisles and shelves were literally bursting with books- mostly rare or out-of-print.
Smith would take anything.
By the front door is an aisle dedicated to the Civil War. Behind that, aisles covering politics, war and a hundred other topics. One whole room is dedicated to literature while another is packed with children’s books from the last century.
While my parents looked at books on history or gardening, my brother and I would be squirreled away in the back reading Victorian novelists like G.A. Henty, Horatio Alger or Edward Stratemeyer, the original creator of the popular Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew series.
The air was so stale and full of dust at times it seemed it would trigger a sinus infection. The hours would melt away as we flipped through the dry, brown brittle pages.
The last time I was at Choctaw, I walked out with the autobiography of Charles Lindbergh, a Look magazine special issue on the Kennedy family, an official program from the presidential inauguration of Lyndon Johnson, and a bound volume of minutes from the 1968 Republican national convention.
Sometime between then and now I just quit going to Choctaw so much. Maybe it was the driver’s license, college, new jobs, new toys.
All the “noise, noise, noise” that would make the Grinch’s head spin.
When I profiled Fred in 2010 for a small business story for the MBJ, he knew the ending was imminent.
Regarding the rise of Amazon.com, print-on-demand, e-publishing and e-readers, Fred said, “I don’t enjoy that part of the business nearly as much as people coming in and you help them and you try to find something that they’ve been looking for for the past 30 years.”
As for the remaining independent bookstores in Mississippi and throughout the country, I’m afraid they are in for what Charles Dickens called “hard times.”
Like the children of the Hunger Games, this next decade will find them racing through an unknown forest and dodging peril. Only a few will probably survive to the next decade. May the odds be ever in their favor.
The fact that I haven’t visited Choctaw Books or any local bookstore as frequently as some of their more faithful and truly loyal customers is evidence of my generation’s preoccupation with technology and not realizing that probably the greatest gadget in the last thousand years is not the Internet but the book.
We should be whacked in the head- with a book. I’ll be the first one to step in line.
Choctaw Books’ final sale includes a 30 percent markdown on everything in the store now through September 30.
926 North Street, Jackson