An era in Marietta is coming to a close as The Barking Dog book store closes its doors this summer. While there are any number of sources of literature on the Internet, there is no literary experience as broadening as browsing in a well-ordered and maintained book store. The Internet is a place to look for what you already know you want in a narrow, focused manner. Not so, the book store.
As anyone who has been in The Barking Dog knows, it is, inevitably, a place of discovery. Book lovers go to find something interesting to read, not on a limited search for that biggest best-seller of the summer. If not for The Barking Dog, how would I have known of The Value of Simplicity? Who would have thought that President Grover Cleveland was a man of brilliant intellect and clever wit? Without having discovered his wry Hunting and Shooting Sketches, I would not have. Or the incredible odyssey of life and service revealed by Major General A.W. Greely, United States Army in his fabulous work Reminiscences of Adventure and Service? I've thoroughly enjoyed The Jones Sixth Reader and other children's primers from the early 1900s which are full of exciting tales and still-pertinent philosophy designed to provoke thought and develop young minds. These books were assembled by eminent scholars of education with an eye toward providing life lessons through engaging, interesting stories when it was OK to teach morality and ethics in the schools. Just today I found the perfect gift for a good friend who is retiring from the navy after more than 30 years of service: the 1838 register of the United States Navy detailing all American naval engagements from the beginning of the country until the printing of the book. And how could I forget my treasured four-volume history of Abraham Lincoln which includes original, hand-written manuscript pages from the author bound into the introduction of the set?
Had I not had the opportunity to slowly browse the shelves and seek the sage advice of the owners, I would never have benefited from the intellectually-stimulating, enriching volumes which I was fortunate enough to obtain. It is with a sense of loss and sadness that I saw them packing up boxes today.
Where does this leave us? No less an authority than Gregory Copley, president of the International Strategic Studies Association in his fascinating book, Uncivilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos, voices appropriate concern.
"Growth in knowledge, matched with the appropriate environment to transform knowledge into physical reality, is often more stable as a process than decline, and more difficult to initiate. ... Significantly, we see linear declines commence with, and are compounded by, a loss of learning and knowledge. Learning, and therefore intellectual and tangible growth, increases through constant application and a rigid commitment to knowledge. Learning can be lost in a generation when the process is interrupted. Today, knowledge is revered less, replaced by belief. Already we see a decline in the popularity of printed books. Students read summaries and reviews of books, not the books themselves. We can already see how physical libraries, and even bookstores, are disappearing from landscapes around the world."
What does this portend? As a neurosurgeon and student of neuroanatomy and physiology, I don't have a precise explanation for the importance of the physical act of reading and learning from books - I only know it is important. It is clear that as knowledge increases, so does synaptic density. I surmised years ago that learning not only makes us smarter but fundamentally more intelligent and that neuronal plasticity was, for many years, underestimated by neuroscientists. Elegant research from several leading research institutions has since borne this out. My latest question is: Are the neural processes of learning potentiated more by physically reading printed material than by perusal of electronic media? While on the surface, the two may seem identical, to me, they are fundamentally different. The tactile, pleasurable, even perhaps soothing act of holding and reading an excellent work of literature is not comparable to the stark, electronic glare of a tablet or computer screen. Worse yet are internet articles and editorials with the endless distraction of pop-up ads and glaring stories that attest to the worst in human nature. Can it be any wonder why, with no moral or ethical guidance; with constant bombardment with extremely negative portrayals of all facets of the human condition; with no lessons but the depravity, superficiality, and doomsaying of the internet; and with endless exposure to violence in various computerized media, young people feel lost, disenfranchised and utterly cynical? Is it any real wonder that they are increasingly turning to violence as their only form of self-expression?
As book stores, especially independent book stores, close their doors, we lose a whole world of discovery. I remember when I was a child, an old farmer named Davis in Bethesda, Md., had donated land for the construction of Davis Community Library. He had never had the benefit of exposure to books as a youngster and wanted to make sure that others weren't similarly deprived. For me, going to the Davis library was a very special treat and I still remember the wonder and excitement of finding books that I loved in the children's section. The Barking Dog was a way for me to re-experience that excitement and find windows into a world that I never would have known about without their quiet, comfortable store with its neatly-lined and well-organized shelves. The act of browsing a bookstore and finding that one gem with the inherent intellectual stimulation and experience is becoming a thing of the past, not just here in Marietta, but everywhere.
It is with great sadness that I say goodbye to The Barking Dog with the realization that the loss of this store, though small in scale, is enormous in significance. So endeth the acquisition of knowledge.
Charles L. Levy, M.D., lives in Marietta.