Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Bricks, Mortar, and Crap
Stopped by the local Barnes & Noble yesterday. By the time I left, I was having serious reservations about ever going to one again. The whole experience was an exercise in mind-numbing frustration.
Is my taste in reading SO specific that the local big chain brick and mortar book store has absolutely NOTHING I want?
I’m fully aware that I’m not going to find something by, say, Dan J. Marlowe or Peter Rabe on the shelves there. For that matter, I know I’m not going to stumble across anything even by modern writers I dig and who are outside the mainstream, like Anthony Neil Smith or Charlie Williams. That’s too much to ask of a populist business like B&N. I don’t like it, but I’ve reconciled myself to that fact.
But as I wandered through the store, ever more desperate to find JUST ONE THING that interested me as a reader, I began to realize something basic. Simply, the big brick and mortar chain book stores don’t give a shit about real readers. Not really.
This was my experiment with them. First: let’s look for some Joe Lansdale. Any luck? Well, they had a paperback copy of BAD CHILI. That’s it. Nothing else from Champion Joe. So I shifted gears—let’s see if Kim Newman’s latest is in stock. The answer? Nada. No Kim Newman, not even his classic ANNO DRACULA.
I decided to edge my way slowly toward mainstream. How about Ken Bruen? He’s sorta/kinda big, right? And he has a newish book out. Not at B&N, he doesn’t. Not a single book from Mr. Bruen.
By this time I was getting discouraged but had made up my mind that I was NOT leaving this store empty handed. How about Jason Starr? Any luck? No. Scott Phillips? No. Daniel Woodrell? No, no, no.
Finally I had an idea. Stephen King. What book store on earth is not LOADED with books from Stephen King? I’d been wanting to pick up a copy of his collection JUST AFTER SUNSET for some time, so I meandered over to the K’s.
Well, I’ll give them this: they had every single book Stephen King ever wrote, right there. Almost three shelves full. Every single one, that is, except JUST AFTER SUNSET.
I stood there staring at the rows of King tomes for a few minutes, thinking the book I was looking for might just appear if I concentrated hard enough. Didn’t happen. On a whim, I made my way over to the C’s, thinking Albert Camus. I already own a copy of THE STRANGER, but what the hell. Maybe I’d get a spare copy to lend out or something.
No such luck. Nothing by Albert Camus on the shelves. NOTHING. Albert Camus, man!
What I DID find at B&N, though, was a metric ton of space devoted to the handful of books written by Stephanie Meyer. Lots of books by James Patterson and his personal crew of ghost writers. Big displays filled with THE HUNGER GAME and its associates. Books with glaring portraits of television and pop music celebs on the covers.
And oh, yeah, a place where you could buy many different varieties of over-priced coffee drinks and scones.
Are my reading tastes THAT specific that I can’t find anything that interests me? Or have the brick and mortar chain stores let real readers down?
When Borders went toes-up, I read a lot of stuff on line from folks mourning the great loss, but my feeling at the time was, well, fuck ‘em. They did it to themselves. If I felt any sadness about losing Borders, I felt it LONG before they closed their doors, years ago, when they made the business decision of catering to non-readers and flavor-of-the-month cultural fads. Many folks blamed the advent of on-line stores like Amazon for the decline of the brick and mortars, but that’s a cop-out.
You know why Amazon is doing so well? Because they have a terrific selection. They have what you WANT.
So Borders? I gave up on them a long time ago.
And now I’m giving up on Barnes & Noble.
I still love the thrill of finding a book I want on a book shelf in an actual store, but the only time I get that thrill anymore is at used and rare shops, where they still care about books and the people who read them. Between those little independent stores and Amazon, I manage to do pretty well.
Oh, and by the way, I did manage to snag a magazine before I left Barnes & Noble yesterday. So it wasn’t at total loss. But the clerk told me they wouldn’t be carrying it much longer. Why?
“It doesn’t move. We need to make more room for the magazines people want to read.”