Bookstores & Optimism

Back in the Jurassic, many bookstores were lovably idiosyncratic places owned by individual proprietors. Then the big chains came in, undercut the prices, and drove many of those little bookstores out of business. Next came Amazon, and the big chain bookstores crumbled. Borders Books went bankrupt and closed. Many people stopped reading altogether; of those who still read, many switched to eBooks (an expression of confidence in future continued availability of reliable electricity); bottom feeders like myself switched to second-hand books from the networks of still individually-owned used book sellers.

But the big wheel keeps on turning. As Ted Gioia outlines, now it seems that a big chain bookstore may be making a comeback, for a very interesting reason.
The Honest Broker | Ted Gioia | Substack

The key, according to Mr. Gioia, is new leadership. real leadership: It’s amazing how much difference a new boss can make. I’ve seen that firsthand so many times. I now have a rule of thumb: “There is no substitute for good decisions at the top—and no remedy for stupid ones.”

While the old failed Barnes & Noble chain store executives had no love for books or customers and pursued silly gimmicks, the new boss loves books, respects his customers, and trusts his staff. One of his key moves was to reject pernicious promotional subsidies from publishers, and allow bookstore managers to decide for themselves what to stock: Publishers give you promotional money in exchange for purchase commitments and prominent placement—but once you take the cash, you’ve made your deal with the devil. You now must put stacks of the promoted books in the most visible parts of the store, and sell them like they’re the holy script of some new cure-all creed.

Next time my travels take me past a Barnes & Noble, I will certainly check them out. But the real cause for optimism here is the reminder that things can change for the better. And in a sense, accomplishing a turnaround is not rocket science – simply stick to your knitting and respect your customers. B&N had to be on the brink of bankruptcy before they brought in real leadership. Perhaps when the situation gets sufficiently dire, we in the West will replace our corrupt & incompetent leaders with people who love their nations and respect their citizens. Perhaps!


Don’t hold your breath on your last!


I still see independent bookstores now and then but I’m rarely tempted to go in. For better or worse, electronic versions and audiobooks are more convenient. My library of physical books still contains many as-yet-unread titles.

As for the future availability of electricity, if that fails we’ll have bigger problems than not having new books to read. Furthermore, major publishers are just putting out regime propaganda so not much of value is lost. I expect that’s what you’ll mostly find in chain stores like B&N.


Time to get a supply of solar powered kindle chargers, then they’ll work until their planned obsolescence failure.


The issue is not new books. The issue would be access to ANY of the materials stored in a form that requires electricity to access them.

Just a mild suggestion on my part – consider stacking up hard copy technical books & manuals somewhere. They could be invaluable in a range of future scenarios where Google is not on tap. Worst case scenario, after Biden’s thermonuclear war, we may need to burn them to keep warm.


If it’s just older books, those would mostly not be found in chain stores anyway. It’s going to be either a used bookseller like AbeBooks, some other vendor on Amazon, or public libraries.


Which you need electricity to access.

As already noted above, you’ll have more important things to worry about if there’s no electricity. For one thing, no running water. For another, no food unless you grow your own. Books will be far down the list.

1 Like

Sure. Things have gone to HE77 in a handbasket.

?But where are you going to learn the skills of farming. ?Of reloading ammo. ?Of using animal pelts for clothing.

From books. Which you can no longer access because of no electricity.


Once there is no electricity, you’d die of dehydration or starvation long before you had time to apply your book-learning to plant, grow, and harvest crops — not to mention that it takes more than reading a few books to acquire the skills necessary to successfully reap food crops in sufficient quantity and variety to sustain life. And besides, you’d probably die from lack of potable water before you got done planting. If you hadn’t already honed these skills before the power went off, there’s no chance of getting them on the fly after.

As for ammo, where do you expect to get the raw materials to reload anything in this post-apocalyptic hellscape? Nope, if you haven’t done the prep work well in advance, some books aren’t going to save you at the last minute. That means you’d not only have read all the books you needed; it also means you’d have also practiced and perfected the skills learned from them.


For a more realistic view of what life would be like after civilizational collapse, I recommend Cormack McCarthy’s novel, The Road. It’s available in all formats: paper, ebook, and audiobook. After the power is turned off, you can read the paper version by candlelight or daylight while waiting to die from dysentery, cholera, dehydration, or starvation. Alternatively, you could adopt the main character’s strategy and survive a bit longer.


Obviously you’re from California, where ALL water must be either delivered or bought in those clear plastic bottles. The same ones you could catch the local kids filling from the tap out back behind the hotel in Puerta Vallarta.

Food would require some hunting and some growing skills. You start with small patches and grow larger.

Black powder is not hard to manufacture. It does leave a “smoke cloud” when you fire, but it still fires and the cartridges shoot with authority. Check out the Civil War casualties (before the electricity disappears in California) for confirmation. .44-40, .44 Spl, .38 Spl, .45 Colt, and .45-70 ALL are black cartridges. You can tell by their size vs how much powder they require in smokeless. Casting is not a difficult skill, though reading about it might be helpful. About the only thing you would need to stockpile is primers. 12-15k would keep you set for quite a while.

A still would give you alcohol, which would most likely be a highly bartered product. That would give you some of the things you may be missing initially.


I live in Florida, which is essentially the opposite of California.


Yet you act like you’re a Californian. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Two nonfiction books that look realistically at long-term survival in grid-down situation are these by James Wesley, Rawles (that’s how he writes his name, with the comma), founder of SurvivalBlog.

Both links are to my reviews. The first book is a basic guide to preparation and precautions which are just as wise to have in case of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, ice storms, and other natural disasters as societal collapse. The second book looks at the skills and tools needed to maintain what amounts of a 19th century homestead lifestyle after a collapse. Reading it reinforces the belief that it is impossible for a single individual to acquire all the necessary skills, and that like-minded people with a variety of talents and tools will be required to survive on their own.

Mr Rawles has also written a novel that illustrates survival after an unspecified societal collapse called “The Crunch”, Patriots. There are a number of sequels to this book, none of which are as good or informative as the original.


That certainly is a key point – groups can survive, individuals can not. Within that surviving group, there will be a need for a wide range of skills. How do you deliver a baby? How do you build a water mill? The availability of a few hard copy textbooks could make a significant contribution to group survival.

And then, as the situation post Biden’s Thermonuclear War slowly stabilizes over the next few following decades and reconstruction starts, that old guy who tends the fire is going to tell them that there used to be 3-phase electricity, and designing it required the use of imaginary numbers. If they have not already been forced to burn that textbook to stay warm, it could help them speed up the process of regrowth by decades.


In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s 1977 novel Lucifer’s Hammer, a tale of asteroid impact and post-catastrophe survival, Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and bookworm Dan Forrester chooses books for after the apocalypse and preserves them in watertight bags in his septic tank. After the calamity, he talks his way into the “Stronghold” compound by showing the copy of volume 2 of The Way Things Work in his backpack and saying he has volume 1 in the septic tank at his house ready to be retrieved, along with other books including:

  • the 1911 Britannica
  • an 1894 book of formulæ for such things as soap, with a whole section on how to brew beer
  • The Beekeeper’s Manual
  • “Veterinary handbooks”
  • “Instructor’s lab manuals”
  • The Amateur Radio Handbook
  • Farmer’s almanac
  • The Rubber Handbook
  • Peters’s Pour Yourself a House, and two books on how to make Portland Cement
  • The Compleat Gunsmith and Army field manuals on infantry-weapon maintenance
  • maintenance manuals for most cars and trucks
  • Wheeler’s Home Repairs
  • Three books on hydroponic gardening

He is admitted to the survival group.