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Keeping the literary lights on in West Maui! 

By Staff | Nov 2, 2017

It’s been a tough week for the printed page on Maui. On Oct. 20, The Maui News, Maui’s daily newspaper, announced that it was ending 5 a.m. doorstep delivery. The 117-year-old Maui News, once owned by the scions of the Baldwin family, will still print for grocery stores, hotels and gas stations, but personal delivery will now come in the mail. For digital natives and millennials like me (1981, I just make the cut), we won’t grieve too much for the end of home delivery, even though I was a happy residential delivery customer for a long time.

Generation Xers, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are more upset. The daily ritual of coffee and a morning paper at home will be replaced by coffee and swiping for the day’s news on a smartphone.

In this very same week, the news broke that Barnes and Noble would be closing in 100 days. The national bookseller and the Lahaina Gateway Center were unable to come to an amenable rental agreement for a lease extension, and each is pointing their finger at the other.

What’s strange is that the bookstore is doing well. Barnes and Noble has diversified from books and magazines into coffee, multimedia, e-readers and gift cards. On any given day it is humming with locals and visitors, helped along by any of the cheerful 35 employees of the store.

How many of us have had a good experience in there?

Wandering serendipitously through reams of fresh-cut paper, drinking in all of the adventures, stories and wisdom living inside so many pages.

Soaking in the beautiful and pregnant silence of a public place where curious people imagine, discover and meet the great minds of the world.

Vanishing into a graphic novel, magazine or recommended read for seconds, minutes or hours.

As many people have been commenting online, the store has been a sanctuary and gathering place for so many locals and visitors.

Awesomely, a young activist seized the initiative and stepped up. On Tuesday, Oct. 24, it was front page in The Maui News that Hannah Sheveland, a book-loving teenager in Lahaina, was petitioning the public, the key players and anyone who would listen to keep the doors of the beloved bookseller open. Thanks to the outpouring of support, it now looks like Barnes and Noble will remain a part of our community. What a beautiful example of a young person making a difference.

While the news is good this time, is the threat to printed newspapers and paper booksellers a sign of the times?

As I peruse my bookshelves stacked with all the stories I can’t wait to read, and try to keep my bedside stand from overflowing with articles, newspapers and magazines, I wonder if it’s past time for me to transition away from paper. Magazines sent through the mail, newspapers delivered on trucks, books printed and flown across oceans – aren’t these special luxuries with a carbon footprint? In an age when e-readers (Barnes and Noble’s Nook; Amazon’s Kindle Fire) have digital ink, wireless delivery and lower prices, is the decline of print part of a “green” transition in publishing?

Maybe. Maybe not. I am going to reduce my consumption of paper magazines and newspapers, and I do see the environmental upside of e-readers, even while I may miss the feel of fresh paper between my fingers.

But a literate, aware and curious society is also the foundation of a “green” society. It’s people with empathy, a broad range of experience and interests, an understanding of problems and a creative approach to solutions that will lead the way in creating a better world. All of these virtues can be constructed through reading.

Reading electronically can be a boon for its speed, variety and accessibility, but if we lose the ability to be patient, engaged and precocious readers, all skills that a reading emporium like Barnes and Noble encourages, we may become a less clever, less educated, and less “green” society.

On Oct. 24 at 4:30 a.m., the power went out in Maui County: TV, Internet, computers without batteries – all gone. I spent the early morning hours – as the rain drizzled down, grey clouds inundated the sky and a subdued light illuminated the room – reading on paper about modern Chinese society. It was a 19th century pleasure to just read on paper with the lights out.

The lights came back on by 9 a.m., and all the screens in West Maui started buzzing again. Back to the 21st century…

Hopefully, the lights will come back on at Barnes and Noble in 2018 at the Lahaina Gateway Center. For a formal royal capital that was once the most literate place in the world, Lahaina needs this book sanctuary.