Books and roses | TechCrunch – TechCrunch
Anyone who thinksÂ paper books are dead has never been inÂ a Barcelona bookshop the day before Sant Jordi.Â The Patron Saint festival is Catalunyaâ€™s equivalent of Valentineâ€™s day. But as well as giving long-stemmed red rosesÂ people give books. Lots and lots of books. Some â‚¬20 million worth of books are sold (gifted)Â on the day itself.
April 23 also happens to beÂ World Book day â€” a more recent celebration of ink spilt on the printed page. But in Barcelona today isÂ El Dia de Sant Jordi.
In the days leading up to the festival every bookshop in the Catalan capital is packedÂ with people,Â tables piled high with shiny paperbacks perpetuallyÂ ringed byÂ shoppers seekingÂ the perfect literaryÂ gift. Stop for a moment to thumb throughÂ a title and youâ€™ll invariably be jostled aside by the sheer force of foot traffic as book buyersÂ criss-cross each othersâ€™ alphabetic desires.
This year the bone-white balconies of GaudÃâ€™s Casa BatllÃ³Â have been dressed inÂ skirts ofÂ red roses to markÂ the occasion, catching the eyesÂ of a smattering of tourists who stand in Passeig de GraciaÂ taking what I imagine they believeÂ to be romantic selfies. Meanwhile,Â across the road inÂ the book-lined aisles ofÂ Casa del Libro, another expression of love:Â the cash registersÂ are under siege like itâ€™s Christmas eve.
According to 2015Â statistics from theÂ city government, Sant JordiÂ represents between 5% and 8% of regional booksellersâ€™ annual turnover. Some 1.5 million books were sold on the day alone that year. This year I watch Saturday shoppers whoÂ have successfully made their last minute gift selections standÂ like communion takersÂ in queues that snakeÂ up to twenty people deepÂ into the aisles. You really have to wonder how many more books would be sold if the payment process wasnâ€™t such a bottleneck and could riseÂ to meet the demand.
Casa del Libro is Spainâ€™s largest bookstore chain, so Iâ€™m not too surprised to find it hasÂ an e-book section â€” where it sells its own e-reader (called the Tagus). On the eve ofÂ Sant Jordi,Â thisÂ brightly lit but decidedly pequeÃ±oÂ corner looks very forlorn indeed as shoppers push past it looking for paper. It goes without saying that no one wants a lover who giftsÂ an e-book. Perhaps oneÂ reasonÂ why sales of paper books look to haveÂ picked up, andÂ e-books may have plateauedâ€¦
In smallerÂ bookshops in Barcelona extra staff are standing by toÂ individually wrap the books you buyÂ â€” like theÂ barrioÂ bookstoreÂ I wander into later,Â leavingÂ with a copy of Pier Paolo Pasoliniâ€™s PoÃ©sie en forme de rose freshly boundÂ inÂ red paper. The shopâ€™sÂ backroom has stacks ofÂ antique books right up to the rafters and is busyÂ with browsers longÂ into the evening. A pianist in the corner provides a liveÂ score. Itâ€™s clearÂ Sant Jordi is not just about buying books; itâ€™s a festival of mood and literature. Around the city in the days leading up to April 23 writers give talks, read poems, tell stories.
OnÂ the dayÂ itself the streets fill upÂ with even more people and color as book sellersÂ and rose sellers man theirÂ tables and buckets, and couples walk hand in hand between. Rose stalls outnumber book stalls by about 4:1 even though petals arenâ€™t alwaysÂ cheaper than paper. Many stallsÂ are selling in aid ofÂ a local cause like a school trip or a charity such asÂ Save the Children. InÂ PlaÃ§a de CatalunyaÂ you might be lucky enough to stumbleÂ across a favorite writer signing copies of their latest book. EquallyÂ you can savorÂ strolling through the calmer buzz of a local barrioÂ turned out together intoÂ the streets.Â Sant JordiÂ is a celebration of how somethingÂ thatâ€™s bound within can beÂ displayed without, be it inside the pages of bookÂ or the unfurled beauty of a flower. Itâ€™s a celebration ofÂ the energy that goesÂ into the process of creation, individually and collectively. Itâ€™sÂ as muchÂ about emotion and sensation as it is about books and reading.
Iâ€™ve lost count of the number of articles Iâ€™ve seen asking whetherÂ e-books equal the death of paper. To my mindÂ thatâ€™s like askingÂ if a digital screen means the end of roses becauseÂ you can digitally display a flowerÂ on a screen. Clearly thereâ€™s a place for screens, and thereâ€™s a place for paper. Two different formats, twoÂ different messages â€” and a whole range of uses and utilities. Buying a book can be about accessingÂ information asÂ you can access information via a screen. Equally it can be about something radicallyÂ different â€” like saying howÂ you feel or what you hope without needing to articulate thatÂ exactly. The medium canÂ be an essential part of the message, especially so where gifts are concerned. Common sense saysÂ a digital rose does not smell as sweet as the real deal. Nor does an e-book containÂ the depth and history of paper.
Maybe someone, somewhere will invent a better e-reader that does not lockÂ books inside a single-formatÂ push-button frame. It would also need a new type ofÂ e-paper that feels and acts much more like the real thing. Something that could be bundled into stacksÂ and have readersÂ scribble on it, bend corners, flip pages back and forth, feel the heft and weight of the book and be able to contemplate their placeÂ in it. Weâ€™re not there yet. Especially asÂ technology lovesÂ anÂ upgrade, not a patina. Perpetual erasure is very hard to get sentimental about. ItÂ would also make for a very nihilisticÂ kind of fiesta. AndÂ thatâ€™s before you even considerÂ suggestionsÂ the human brain might actually retain and comprehendÂ information rather better when reading and writing on paper vs screens. (Which â€” if true â€” would really give paper a cutting edge.)
Thereâ€™s also so much spaceÂ for interesting interplay between the formats we humansÂ love to engage with (in this case screensÂ and paper). Which means thereâ€™s room for cross overs from digital to print too, just as there has obviously beenÂ plenty of publications going the other way. Hereâ€™s one local and pertinentÂ case in point:Â Yo FuÃ a EGBÂ isÂ a Facebook pageÂ set upÂ in 2011 by two Generation X Spanish guys, Jorge DÃaz andÂ Javier Ikazt, who started out byÂ posting photosÂ and videos of stuff they remembered from being kidsÂ in the 1980s and goingÂ to a typical SpanishÂ elementary school. If that sounds a bit niche, cuidado, itâ€™s not. The Facebook page has more than 1.2M likes, and the interest generated from the community they built digitallyÂ has been transformedÂ into multiple best-selling (print) books, board games and now even a TV series. (Yes, there are e-books too.) So an engaged digital community that remade long lost physical ones has been successfully repurposed into multiple differentÂ formatsÂ â€” including â€˜old schoolâ€™Â ink and paper media. Really thisÂ should surprise no one.
Or, if I may put it another way, aÂ rose is a rose is a roseÂ is a rose. tl;dr: sometimes you want the real rose, sometimes a beautiful picture of rosesÂ will do.
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