Books-A-Nil

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I’m not happy about the decline of bookstores in the digital age. I’ve spent countless hours wandering through bookshops of all sizes, listening for The Call, entranced by the simple notion of all those possibilities. Any one of those books could have been some sort of key into who I am, or who I was to become.

Now I have a library that can keep me occupied for the rest of my days. It’s likely I’ll never work my way through, but I’m happy to be surrounded by all these volumes and all they have to tell me. (Here’s a decent — but a bit obvious and silly — essay about how you can never keep up. I mean, you should probably read it, but don’t feel obliged.)

For the most part, I feel like I’ve left bookstores behind. If I spy a nice indie one, I’ll stop in and take a look around. On a jaunt through NYC a few weeks ago, I made a few pickups at The Strand and St. Mark’s Books (mainly, I just re-upped my supply of Hicksville and Cultural Amnesia, to give as gifts, but I did find a book that caught my eye, called I Bought Andy Warhol).

The chain bookstores? Well, let me share with you a pair of stories from the past week.

Last Friday, I stopped in at a not-yet-closing-down Borders during lunch. It’s around the corner from my office, and I didn’t want to head back to work right away. I looked through the magazine section first. I picked up Esquire’s Black Book for spring/summer ’11, because that’s who I am, okay? Quit being so judgmental and just praise my newfound fashion sense!

I drifted through the store for a bit. I took a look at the Graphic Novel (oh, how I hate that term) section, where I saw Dan Clowes’ new book, Mister Wonderful. I decided to be nice to Borders and pick it up. I mean, they are hemorrhaging money, but maybe I could help them out a little. But then I decided to check the Amazon price for the book with my phone. I thought, “It’s a $20 book: if it’s $14 or higher on Amazon, I’ll just buy it here.”

Amazon turned out to be selling it for $10.50, almost 50% off. So I bought it through my Amazon app there and then, figuring I could wait a few days for it.

I still had that Esquire special ish, so I walked up front with that. There was a line 12 people long, with two cashiers working. I put the Black Book back on the shelf and left

Is it weird that I don’t mind waiting a few days for Mister Wonderful to be delivered to my door, but I do mind standing on line for 10 minutes with old people and housewives during my lunch hour to buy a magazine?

On Tuesday, I stopped at Paramus Park mall to grab some Chik-Fil-A (grilled chicken sandwich sans bun, since I’m triyng to keep kosher for Pesach). There’s a Books-A-Million in the food court area and, even though I once vowed to boycott that chain (they wouldn’t carry a book I was publishing), I thought I’d look around and see if they had any remainders that caught my eye.

I was happy to discover Tony Judt’s book Reappraisals, for a mere $3 in hardcover. Of course, I checked my Amazon app, but found they were selling that edition for $10, and the Kindle version for $14.99 (!). I thought, “Well, I’ll pick this up and maybe read a chapter over my lunch.”

I walked up to the three cash registers, where I waited two full minutes for a cashier to sell me the book. None showed up, and no employee was in sight of the register area. I put the book down on the register and left.

Yes, I took a picture before leaving:

books-a-nil

So I got my grilled chicken and waffle fries (not made with corn oil, or so they said), sat down at a table, tapped the Kindle App on my iPhone, and started reading a bio/sketch/essay from Cultural Amnesia, picking up just where I left off with my e-book the night before.

I feel sad for smaller, independent bookstores that can’t survive the transition to digital. I don’t know what their value proposition will be, to entice readers to spend more than they “have” to on books. But the big chains? They can suck my nuts. They’re so dysfunctional, they can’t even sell me something when I want to buy it.

P.S.: St. Mark’s Books is where my wife & I first laid eyes on each other. I’ll always buy a little something there; that’s my idea of a value proposition.

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