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The Mom Next Door: On Borders, The Cheese Touch And Good Storytelling

Borders is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. E-books are revolutionizing the publishing industry. Regardless of how it all shakes out, good storytelling is the real legacy we should pass along to our kids.

I have always loved books. I get lost in them. I can spend hours on the couch absorbed in a story, or sink into my pillow and read until the wee hours of the morning.

It was my daughter who deepened my love of reading. She was born the year Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published. I was alone during my pregnancy and read a lot of books during those months, including Harry Potter. When I learned that J.K. Rowling was also a single mother and penned Sorcerer's Stone in a coffee shop while her infant daughter napped in a baby carriage – that was it. I was hooked.

Years later I read to my daughter until she was able to read independently, and her grade school teachers have continued to foster her love of books. Reading is an integral part of the curriculum every year, and a teacher's enthusiasm can be highly contagious.

Her school also invites children’s book authors to talk to the kids. Last fall it was Lincoln Peirce, author of the Big Nate series. My daughter is a huge fan of Big Nate and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and she was so excited about Peirce’s visit, she momentarily forgot her shyness to ask him a question during his Q&A session with her class.

We used to buy many of our books at Borders, but we haven't shopped there in recent years because of the economy. It's been cheaper to order from Amazon, or to check out books from the library.

A couple of weeks ago, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced that it will be closing half its stores in the Chicago area. No one is rejoicing at the news, not even our local indie bookstores. Book publishers are asking themselves what it all means.

Printed books seem to have the Cheese Touch right now. With the exploding popularity of e-readers like Kindle, Nook, and the iPad, why buy a $21 or $30 bestseller when you can download it for $9.99 (or sometimes even $0.99)? 

Although children's books are said to be the most stable segment of the industry, video games, websites, and electronic devices have captured a huge segment of the youth market.

Even so, I believe there will be an audience for printed books for a long time to come.

“At the heart, you still have to have good storytelling," Jeff Kinney told the Washington Post last year. "You can't resort to gimmickry and hope to retain an audience."

I have nothing against video games (I play them too), e-readers, or kids' web sites. But if my daughter is any indication, the gimmickry can wear out its welcome.

At the same time, it’s good to see the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library changing with the times. They recently conducted a community-wide survey. Although the survey results were heavily skewed toward patrons 65 and older (my demographic represented a dismal 16% of respondents) who indicated that technology is not a high priority, the library is committed to e-books and modernization. 

In the future, I have no idea whether my daughter will read actual, physical books to her own children or if they'll huddle around the glow of an e-reader. But regardless of the medium, a good story will never go out of style.

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