Matthew Cheney stands on a dusty street at high noon and sends that bookstore straight to Hell.
I can relate, to some degree, Matt’s predicament – no independent bookstores within a manageable drive, computer at hand, click-click, there it is in the mailbox. I’m fortunate enough to have a few good stores less than an hour’s drive away, and yet still use the internet to buy a lot of my books. However, it’s Powell’s Books, every time.
I should be ordering through the local stores’ websites. Why don’t I? Various inadequate reasons – I get free shipping through Powell’s, I don’t have to make a trip into the city to pick up the book, I think somehow that throwing in with a “bigger” independent bookstore (but not too big) is going to keep them going when the smaller fish get swallowed. The shame, it radiates all through my abdomen.
The thing is, though, that Matt and I aren’t the common book buyer – we’ve come to this point through years of exposure to smaller presses, lesser-known authors, and the internet calling attention to books that might otherwise slip beneath the waves without a sound. And independent bookstores:
When I was in the NY metro area, I tended to shop at independent bookstores when I bought new books –St. Mark’s, Shakespeare & Co, and McNally Robinson (now McNally Jackson) were my favorites. I shopped there because I would find things at those stores that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t gone in. I use the internet to buy books I already know about; I use bookstores to make discoveries.
Exactly – these smaller bookstores have people like this, who breathe books. They love what the love and they push those books on people who come in looking for a book to love. At Borders, you get books pushed on you by Stu Crappenbock (not his/her actual name), who is more concerned about the bottom line than about finding great new books. Stu’s going to keep feeding you cotton candy, because he knows that you’ll keep eating it. After all, everyone else is. I could go to Borders and come out with Report on Myself - but that’s because I know about it through the internet and my book-loving friends, because books are my crack pipe. Most people don’t stare at the computer screen, waiting for it to reveal a new book to love. Most people rely on the bookstore. And Borders is going to be shoving vampire books down your throat long after you’re stuffed – until the next “big thing” comes along.
This is kind of rambling, but I suppose the point here is that I, and you, and your friends, we should keep in mind that we’re uniquely positioned to find out about books and do something to bring them to the attention of others. And we can do that by supporting the smaller bookstores – while they’re still around – that are positioned to introduce these books to the general population.
So – market forces, the better bookstores win, etc., but do it for the readers! Do it for the authors. Homogeneity sucks.