Two weeks ago I wrote a post lamenting the disappearance of physical stores as entertainment (movies, music and books) continues to go digital. Since then Borders have announced they'll be closing 200 stores across the United States and the media are pondering whether this is the beginning of the end of bookstores.

New stereo

It stands to reason that in an era where people value portability and instant access to material, physical stores would suffer. But I, for one, have never gotten over record stores. I love to flip through the racks and to me a digital file is no replacement for a physical copy of a book, film or album. If I'm a big fan of a novel or album I want the artwork (and lyric sheet!) that goes along with it and helps create an overall vibe for the work.

Granted, I grew up in a time when music was sold mostly on tape, which was an intensely crappy storage medium (I can't even begin to guess how many tapes I killed through over-listening in the 80s or how many I temporarily saved by unspooling them and working out the knots). It's also pretty impossible for artwork to look truly impressive at such tiny dimensions. But vinyl albums, now they were really something. A presence to be reckoned with.

So not only am I shunning e-book readers for the foreseeable future, we've actually gone and bought a record player so we can start adding some vinyl back into our collection! The above is a USB turntable (as well as a CD, tape player and radio) so we can still create digital backups of the music if we want to. As you can see from the photo we've already hit some Toronto record stores. Having just picked up the record player last weekend I'm obviously no expert on where in the city to buy vinyl but after some Googling I discovered this extremely helpful article on The Best Vinyl Record Stores in Toronto. We hit four of the Queen Street West stores today—Criminal Records, Cosmos, Hits & Misses and Rotate This—and I was really impressed with them all. It was such an amazing feeling to flip through all those vinyl albums that I don't know why it didn't occur to me to buy a turntable earlier!

Equally ridiculous is the fact that it's taken me this long to buy an Adam and the Ants album. Honestly, I don't know what happened there and have only myself to blame for this oversight. I'm in the process of remedying the situation and so far have picked up a copy The Essential Adam Ant CD and an original vinyl copy of Prince Charming (their third album).

For the benefit of those of you who are younger than me, or who missed the Ants invasion of the early 80s for whatever reason, here are a couple of clips from a Tokyo Adam and the Ants concert in 1981. I'm telling you, if my record player could double as a time machine I'd be whipping back there to catch this gig pronto!

Car Trouble:

Stand and Deliver:

While I'm on the subject of music magic I'm also extremely happy to say that I have tickets to see The Airborne Toxic Event's upcoming Toronto show. I missed them the last time they were in town but their 2008 debut was, no joke, the best album I've heard in a decade. Here's a track from it:


And my very favourite Airborne Toxic Event tune, Innocence, a song which I've come strongly to associate with my book, My Beating Teenage Heart:

Their new album, All at Once, will be released on April 26th.

I hope, wherever you are, you're taking advantage of the physical bookstores and record shops nearest you! Digital is sure handy but there's nothing quite like being surrounded by oodles of bookshelves or stacks of recorded music to get you excited about books and music past and present.

***Update, February 27th***

For the Adam Ant fans out there, Matt Everitt's critically acclaimed BBC 6 series The First Time broadcast a brand new hour long interview with Adam today. It's available for online listening for the next seven days.
Matt Everitt:
“It sounds like it's been more of a battle than I think people assume maybe with your career early on.”

Adam Ant:
“Well, I think everybody has to realize if you want to be in rock and roll it's work, it's a job and it's seven days a week fight until you're at number one and then when you're at number one it's a lonely place cuz the only way is down and to stay there, I felt the four things you need are success, survival, longevity and consistency. I've had all three but consistency is the hardest.”
The Animals' ConferenceA couple of weeks ago at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) I stumbled across something special in the Prints and Drawings collection. If you're in the Toronto area and a fan of children's books think about catching the Walter Trier: The Animals’ Conference exhibit before it closes on April 25th.

The classic children's book by Erich Kästner was published in 1947 and “tells a story of a group of animals who hold a peace conference at the same time as government leaders meet to discuss war. As the story progresses, the animals are forced to take drastic measures to ensure a future without conflict.”

The exhibit features over 30 original pen-ink-and-watercolour illustrations by Walter Trier. They're hung in chronological order with the text of the story below so that you can follow the book around the room. The illustrations and story exude an ageless warmth and whimsy that will delight readers of all ages. I hope that one day this lovely book comes back into print; I'd love a copy for my personal collection. In the meantime, it's wonderful that the AGO is exposing readers to this gem and while you're at the gallery be sure to check out their impressive Maharaja exhibition. Ticket prices for the Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts are only about $3 more than regular admission.
Depending on how closely you follow book news you may or may not be aware that British libraries are in trouble. 400 public libraries in the U.K. are currently under threat of closure. On the fifth of this month there was a national day of action with events in support of libraries taking place in numerous libraries across the United Kingdom. In advance of this, author Philip Pullman made an impassioned speech defending the value of public libraries and chastising those who don't see their value.
“Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days...The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands... He doesn’t understand libraries at all. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards?”
The market fundamentalism Pullman speaks of isn't, of course, just a British issue. It's very much alive and well on this side of the pond. It scares me how the word austerity is used as though it's some kind of virtue, as though the value of human lives and experiences can be measured in profit and loss statements. And these 'austerity' cuts seem to punish low income people the worst (slashing people's lifelines like unemployment benefits and much needed social programs), although it's the folks at the top of the wealth pyramid that caused our current economic crisis. Funny how that works.

Vancouver Public Library atrium

Vancouver Public Library atrium

Ugly market fundamentalism isn't the only threat to public libraries. The rise of the Internet and the growing popularity of e-books are used as rationalizations to suggest that public libraries are no longer important. The BBC recently ran an article asking if libraries were finished and posing five arguments for and against libraries. As can you guess, the #1 and #2 arguments against libraries were the value of the Internet as a research tool and the existence of digital books.

The Internet argument particularly bothers me because it comes from an ignorant, privileged point of view that assumes everyone has a decent Internet connection. As for digital books, not all books are available as e-books and even if they were, not everyone who currently signs books out from their local library could afford to purchase as many books as they would like to read. To offer an equivalent of the library's current service in providing access to physical books an extensive collection of digital books would have to be available for free lending. If this were the case and suddenly everyone was magically able to afford Internet access, an Internet connection and e-books would still be no replacement for a good local library. A library doesn't merely offer access to books, it provides the expertise of its staff and functions as a community hub, which brings me to my next worry, which is that our physical lives are beginning to disappear.

An old Xtra-Vision shop in Dublin

I grew up haunting record stores, spending every bit of money I could scrape together on tapes and vinyl recordings by my favourite bands. In my early twenties I worked at a Blockbuster Video in Southern Ontario and then, for several years, at an outlet of the Xtra-Vision video chain in Dublin, Ireland. There were quite a few regular customers including a single mom and her action movie loving teenage son, a sweet sixty-something year old gentlemen who used to tape TV shows for me when I'd miss them while working, a restaurant owner whose Dublin restaurant I used to frequent, and a gorgeous Irish TV actor from Kerry who usually rented under his girlfriend's account. Having a chat with these folks became part of mine (and their) day. It was the sort of casual but regular daily interaction we've begun to lose in public spaces as we focus more on our electronic devices and Internet interactions and less on those around us.

These days I typically drop into my local library at least twice a month but virtually the only record stores left standing in this part of the world are HMVs (just recently in the UK sixty HMVs were slated to close) which are filled largely with videogames and DVDs because music's gone digital and scarcely exists in a physical form anymore. Blockbuster Video in the States filed for bankruptcy in September. Borders Books are hanging on by a thread and a couple of weeks ago I read that the two Waterstones bookstores in Dublin that I used to frequent when I lived there have closed. It's beginning to seem that, jobs aside, if there was a way to digitally download food and coffee we'd barely have to leave our homes! And that's not a good thing. It's just a couple of steps away from Bruce Willis movie The Surrogate.

Needless to say I'm not in any hurry to get myself an e-book reader. I prefer my books physical, thanks. I've been through format changes too many times before. With music I've transitioned from vinyl to tapes to CDs to MP3s and in movies from VHS to DVD (I drew a line at Blu-Ray and won't pick one up until regular DVD players are absolutely obsolete!). Yeah, I'm plenty tired of re-collecting material I've purchased previously and although I don't have any more space for books, filling an e-reader up with material would just be a short-lived solution. When people's e-readers start breaking down and they begin losing their fabulous digital collections and have to start over, or when the file format of e-books change (because believe me, they will! Before we know it there'll be some kind of cool advanced 3D or scratch and sniff format everyone will be raving about and the old formats will be outdated) I'll be sitting here reading my paper books, without the aid of any machinery or batteries whatsoever, like they did hundreds of years ago. This is the beauty of physical books. All they require is literacy.

It seems to me that depending on digital files is to risk losing a civilization's knowledge. Much as we love our electronic toys in this age they're not as reliable or enduring as simple pieces of paper. And abandoning bricks and mortar stores and physical libraries is a good way to lose a sense of community and make us ever more insular until we no longer know how to interact with real-world people who don't happen to share our Twitter and Facebook interests.

I've been wanting to post this for awhile and today I got the all clear so I'm extremely happy to be able to share the cover for My Beating Teenage Heart:

My Beating Teenage Heart

I would've had it up a bit earlier in the day but there's been a flurry of activity centred around the fact that our heating is broken. In February. In Canada. Fun times.

I'm waiting on the repair person as I type this and my fingers aren't nearly as cold as they could be because we nipped over to Canadian Tire last night to get a space heater. This is one of those times that I'm happy that the apartment is rather small (less to heat!).

As well as the cover I've added the flap copy here and hope to add the first chapter soon too.
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