Death Of The Bookstore?

I just finished reading a book about bookstores and booksellers and their history, called The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. Near the end he talks about online book buying, thru such websites as Amazon, and whether or not it will bring about the demise of the physical bookstore.

I don’t think bookstores will every completely disappear. I do think that the discounts available thru websites and big bookstore chains, who can order their stock in bulk, will make it more difficult for independent bookstores to open or stay open. And then there are e-books, which small indie bookstores don’t even have the ability to sell at all. But I’ll be the first to admit that I do the majority of my book buying at a big chain bookstore, namely Barnes & Noble. I also order books online thru Barnes & Noble’s website. And I have an iPad with the Nook and iBooks apps.

I like going to bookstores tho. I don’t enjoy shopping online for books. Most of the experience of book shopping isn’t the actual purchase. There are many times when I go to a bookstore that I don’t even buy anything. I just enjoy being there. I like wandering the aisles, seeing what cover image or title or author name catches my eye. I like sitting down with a stack of books in a comfortable chair, or even on the floor, and flipping thru pages, pausing to read a paragraph or two here and there. I like the way the books smell as you rustle the paper. I like bookstores with inviting sitting areas, that make you want to relax and enjoy your coffee or tea or hot chocolate. I like bookstores that offers a place where your writing group or book club can gather.

I know Barnes & Noble is one of the big chain stores, which is considered the enemy to small, independent store owners. But when it comes to the B&N in Holyoke where I shop, I always think of it as my bookstore. I’ve been shopping at that one store for over fifteen years now. I’m just comfortable there. It’s like a second home to me. I also go to the Odyssey, which is an independent store, and Raven Used Books, but not very often because they are farther away. When I lived little farther east of here I used to love this used book store called The Book Bear. I recently got a brochure listing all the used books stores in Massachusetts. When I get a chance I want to check out the ones that are around here. I like used books. They have character to them.

Another thing that I think will change bookselling as we have known it is the changes going on in the publishing world. With the invention self publishing and print on demand, traditional publishing houses and bookstores are no longer the only path to being a published author. Writers can self publish their books and sell them thru their own websites. With e-books there is no physical book to put on a shelf. As far as e-books go, I can definitely say I do not like reading them as much as I like reading a real printed book. That said, I do believe that switching to electronic publications would have a large environmental impact, both in reducing paper waste and reducing the cutting of trees.

But, if every single book, magazine and newspaper were e-formated, there would no longer be a need for bookstores. A world without bookstores would be a sad world indeed.

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Book Store & Library Etiquette

Yes, bookstores and libraries are comfy cozy places to hang out and lounge around and enjoy your leisure time. That does not mean you are at home. You are not in your living room or your bedroom. Thus certain things are not acceptable.

~My biggest peeve is shoes. PLEASE KEEP YOUR SHOES AND SOCKS ON!!!! If your shoes are so uncomfortable that you can’t stand having them on, then perhaps you should invest in different shoes. Nobody wants your nasty sweaty socks or bare feet all over everything. This weekend I was at B&N and one lady had her sock feet up on a coffee table. Another lady had her bare feet up on the upholstered arm-chair, while she was picking the skin from between her toes and flicking the pieces who knows where. I don’t want to sit in a chair that you just finished rubbing your athlete’s foot all over. And don’t put your feet on a table that other people put their food and drinks on. These are the types of things that make me want to be a recluse.

~Cellphone use. Yes, we all have them, for the most part. And, yes, the point of them is so that people can reach us when we are away from home. But that does not mean that you should go to a place where people typically engage in quiet activities, such as reading, studying and browsing books, and spend long intervals of time TALKING ON YOUR PHONE AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS. Especially about highly personal and inapropriate topics or using vulgar language that may be unsuitable for everyone present to hear. You are not in a sound proof booth. We can all hear you. Also if your phone plays music thru its speaker, realize that not everybody shares your taste in music. Dont walk around with your phone clipped to your belt blasting music like its your own private night club.

~Which brings me to regular conversations with who ever it is that you are with. Please use a conversational tone. No need to scream when the person you’re talking to is two feet away. I understand that I am going to hear the conversations of people sitting or standing near me. If they are speaking quietly I can easily tune them out. I respect people’s privacy and will not intentionally eavesdrop on a conversation that I am not a part of. But if your shouting and squealing and making a spectacle of yourself, its hard to ignore.  And again with the language and subject matter.

~I didnt come to catch the live show…if you know what I mean. If you need to get it on that bad, stay home, get a room, go to the drive-in, whatever. I don’t need you dry humping next to me while I’m trying to read.

~Browsing in the same aisle or sitting in the same chair grouping does not make me your friend. If I wanted a companion I would have brought one. If there are two things that don’t mix, it’s talking and reading. If I have an open book in front of my face, I am doing the latter. Also, I tend to be a very solitary person and being approached by strangers generally makes me very uncomfortable. Unlike my boyfriend who feels the need to talk to every person within hearing range of his voice. Which is why I very rarely ever take him to the book store or library with me.

~People need to respect personal space when possible. Obviously in a crowded area we can’t all stay arm’s length away from each other. But that does not mean you need to be hovering over me like a vulture on a dead carcass. If I’m looking at a shelf of books and you want to see something on that shelf, don’t press up against my back, breathing down my neck like a pervert, trying to read over my shoulder. Either wait til I’m done or say “excuse me” and I’ll step aside. This also annoys me in the checkout line when the person behind me is standing so close that I can’t move without bumping into them. It also makes me paranoid that they are trying to steal my PIN number when I’m typing it into the keypad

~Personal hygiene is everybody’s friend. Please shower before going out. You may adore the smell of ass crack and armpits, but most of us do not. There is nothing worse than curling up in a comfortable chair with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate and settling in for a long, satisfying afternoon of reading, then having someone flop down in the chair next to you, with BO so strong it makes you gag. And if that person is also someone who likes to take their shoes off…well lets not even think about that.

~The other patrons are not there to be your babysitters. If you bring children with you it is your responsibility to watch them.You are not allowed to set them loose in the building and completely ignore them while they run, scream, climb, throw things, spill stuff, jump around and harass everybody else while you sit and read or talk on your phone. Also do not allow your children to bring along toys that are excessively noisy. Like remote control cars, toy fire trucks with sirens, drums, horns, whistles, bells or squeakers. If they bring a hand-held video game, give them ear buds or make them keep the volume down.

~If you bring your laptop with you, remember that what comes out of its speakers is not contained to your ears alone. Everyone around you is forced to hear to it as well. So be mindful that listening to you shoot lasers at androids for an hour in whatever ubergeek video game your trying to level up in is probly not gonna be an enjoyable experience for anybody else but you.

~Throw away your trash when you are done. This is more a problem at books stores than libraries because a lot of bookstores tend to have cafes in them these days. If you eat or drink anything, there are barrels provided to throw away your trash. And if you spill a drink or make a lot of crumbs, clean up your mess. Dont leave a filthy area for someone else to use. The cafe people will wipe down the tables and counters in the cafe area, but not the rest of the store. I always find empty coffee cups and crumpled up napkins and sandwich wrappers all over the place, including on the bookshelves. And I don’t like picking my book up off a table and having half the back cover ripped off cuz it glued to some sticky half-congealed splotch of frappucino that I didn’t notice. Libraries don’t have as much of a problem with food trash since there is usually no eating allowed there, but of course you always have those people who ignore the rules and bring in their McDonald’s or Taco Bell, and those are usually people who also don’t clean up after themselves.

So I guess that about covers it. A lot of people will probly think I’m quite unreasonable with my expectations of how people should act. And maybe I am. But I think a lot of people are quite unreasonable in what they expect people to put up with. But of course I know the people who will be the most offended by this list will be the people who are habitually guilty of committing many of these behaviors. Unfortunately with each passing generation our society becomes more ‘me, myself and I” centered, and people just do whatever they please and think they need never consider how their actions effect others.

A Pointless Drive

In two weeks I am having a baby shower for my daughter.

So yesterday I went shopping for her baby shower gifts. I bought some baby outfits and a little snuggly bunny. And of course, I bought books. Well I bought one, and I have one on hold down at that dreadful Barnes and Noble in CT that I will pick up when I am in Enfield tomorrow.

The book I bought at my regular Barnes and Noble is the complete collection of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, a beautiful hard cover with a blue satin ribbon marker and the original illustrations. The other, which they didn’t have but which the sales lady was nice enough to call around to area stores to look for, and reserve in Enfield for me, is a complete collection of Beatrix Potter. Judging by the price, I’m assuming it will be of similar quality to the Pooh book.

I chose to get these books because my daughter, like myself, is an avid reader and I know she will enjoy reading these books to my grand-daughter starting at a very early age. It’s never too early to start reading to a child.

But finding these book. Wow. The last place I really wanted to end up yesterday was Barnes and Noble. I like it there, but I go there on a fairly regular basis and I really wanted to shop for books someplace a little more interesting. So first I made the half hour trek north to, what was at one time, my favorite indie shopping haven. Northampton.

Now, once upon a time, I’d say maybe ten or fifteen years ago, Northampton was the place you could go to find anything you might be looking for, or even to find something you didn’t know you were looking for until you saw it. It was just block after block of independently owned bookstores, new age shops, consignment shops with some of the most interesting second-hand stuff imaginable, army surplus stores, handmade crafts and jewelry, music stores, *adult* shops, not to mention the restaurants. It was just an awesome place. You could park your car for the day and shop or sit on a bench and eat ice cream or enjoy a meal or even just walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of a carefree and creative college town. Back in the 90s my friend and I would go up there several times a month and just have the best time.

But now, everything seems gone. I miss stores like Beyond Words, a bookstore which also sold crystals and oils and incense. It seems most of the stores now are expensive clothing boutiques where, if god forbid you’re not a size 2, you will never fit into anything. Other than that it’s mostly restaurants, pricey organic juice/coffee bars and a few art galleries, spas, fine jewelry stores, shoe and purse stores, and doctors and lawyers offices. It definitely seems to cater more towards the upscale crowd now. It’s lost a lot of the bohemian hippy vibe that I used to love. From what I hear it still has a pretty active club scene at night, but I’m not much into clubbing these days. My boyfriend and I go up there occasionally to eat at Fitzwilly’s or the Teapot and then we’ll walk around a little and maybe buy a couple of things if anything catches our eye. This is the first time I’ve gone up there strictly for shopping in a long time tho, and I think it will most likely be the last. I’ll still go up there to eat and I’ll go up there for Pride day. But I don’t enjoy shopping up there anymore.

Unless it’s at Raven Used Books.

I did stop in at Raven. I love that store. For those who have never been there, it’s a little used bookstore in the basement of a building near Thorne’s Marketplace. It’s just a couple of rooms with floor to ceiling book shelves packed with books, and books piled on top of the shelves, and books stacked on tables and chairs and on the floor, and its dim and narrow and cave-like. It’s just the awesomest place ever to creep around looking for something unusual or obscure. I resisted buying anything tho, cuz I needed to save my money for gift buying.

I also checked out Booklink inside Thorne’s. It’s a small but very nice two-level store with a coffee bar. I’d been in there before, last summer, to buy a book for my two grandchildren who were up from Texas at the time. They sell high quality children’s books and I thought they might have what I was looking for, but didn’t. And of course the children’s store, where a few years back Id originally seen the Beatrix Potter collection I was looking for, was unfortunately long gone. Theres another bookstore further up towards the college, but it was very cold and windy and snowing and I didn’t want to walk that far in the cold when the likelihood that they would have what I was looking for was close to zero.

So, after a fruitless search for non-existent book stores and paying too much money for a thimble sized cup of mint hot chocolate that tasted like toothpaste, I trudged back to my car thru a swirl of wind-blown snowflakes and made my way to my inevitable destination of Barnes and Noble.

All Barnes & Nobles Are Not Created Equal

I had some time to kill in Enfield, CT the other night. Most unfortunate. Anybody who knows me knows that my dislike of Connecticut knows no bounds. So anyways I had about an hour and a half, so I headed to the only place I could think of that I might enjoy myself, Barnes & Noble.

Up until now the only B&N I’ve ever been to is the one in Holyoke, MA, which is the closest one to my house, and the one where my writing group is held. Now that one is huge. It has two floors and a large Starbucks cafe and computers to search for store items and a lot of open spaces with tables and chairs and benches and about a dozen or so big cushioned armed chairs scattered throughout the store. There is even a new Lego play table area for the children. There is a whole separate room just for movies and music and another dedicated just to children’s books. Free wi-fi goes without saying. And with large windows, high ceilings and bookshelves low enough that I can, at 5’6″, see over the tops of most of them, the store is bright, airy and open. It’s a very pleasant, comfortable place to spend time. Except when there is alot of screaming kids throwing Legos.

The Enfield store, on the other hand, blows big ol’ chunks.

First of all its only one floor. And that one floor is only about three-quarters of the size of one floor of the store in Holyoke. It’s like a claustrophobic rat maze. The shelves tower over head and criss cross in all different directions so you can’t see more than a few feet in any direction from the second you walk in the store. The passageways between shelves are so narrow it feels like they are closing in on you, like the trash compactor in Star Wars, slowly crushing the life out of you. There are no computers. There are no chairs other than the half-dozen or so tiny cafe tables at the little Starbucks crammed in the corner. I didn’t even bother checking to see if they had wi-fi. I would assume they did, I think all B&Ns do. But really, whats the point if you can’t sit and relax and enjoy using it. And then to get to the registers, you have to squeeze thru a narrow opening between a shelf and a counter, which is blocked by a sign instructing you to “enter here” for check-out.

So to summarize-Holyoke store: GREAT, Enfield store: SUCKS

I’ve been to quite a few book stores in my life. Some good, some bad. This was definitely not one of the better ones. I also wasnt very fond of the Borders that used to be at the Holyoke Mall, altho it was better than the B&N in Enfield. I have a few favorite places to buy books besides the  B&N in Holyoke. I like The Odyssey in South Hadley and Raven Used Books in Northampton. When I used to live in Ware I went to a used book store called The Book Bear in West Brookfield. And never underestimate what you can find in the book section of your local Thrift Store. I have dozens of books that I bought at the Salvation Army. And the Salvation Army at least has comfortable chairs and couches to sit on while you look over your books. Which is more than I can say for the B&N in Enfield.

Its funny, when I was growing up, I had tons of books, but I don’t remember for the life of me where I shopped for them. I remember spending a lot of time at the library and having a lot of library books. But I don’t remember where I bought the books I owned. I only recall the occasional purchase at discount stores or pharmacies as a teenager. Mostly cheap paperback versions of Stephen King or other horror/suspense novels. But as for the majority of my childhood collection, I have no idea. Obviously my parents bought a lot of them for me, but where? I don’t remember ever seeing or going to an actual bookstore as a child. Hm.