Barnes & Noble arrived a block from my house on a late summer day near the end of last century, and three local bookstores were toast by Christmas. The laggards were punished. The future was now.

Today, the monolith isn’t inspiring the awe of any apes I know. The actual number of books under its roof is clearly less, with the children’s section–an ersatz indoor playground–overtaking a new square yard of the main floor every time I visit. The Nook section is spreading with similar kudzu efficiency, indicating well what does and doesn’t satiate the shareholders.

So bookstores–chain bookstores–are screwed. Borders, Brentano’s, B. Dalton–all have taken their places in the great “B”-yond. B & N is hanging in there, but a walk through it increasingly feels like Round 7 of the Rumble in the Jungle. So long, Champ.

I wonder what this has to do with reading, which is all that should really matter. I don’t think the (hopefully dignified) death of of chain bookstores is going to destroy the practice of reading. But it will probably wound the culture of reading, which, even if it is self-congratulatory and narcissistic, keeps the whole mess going.