Dad wrote a couple of posts last week about the benefits of the Indie Bookstore, some of the deficiencies of the big box bookstore, and how both are vastly superior to the Amazon experience. One thing in particular Dad, and frankly a lot of people who write about this subject, say is that it is nice to talk to the people in the bookshop, to tell them your interests, and to get recommendations for books you have never heard of.
Dad is not an introvert (at least not in this respect).
I’m not saying that people in bookstores aren’t delightful to talk to. I was part of a conversation in the Acorn bookshop (along with Brian) with one of the cashiers about her many trips to China and the eastern countries. It can be really nice sometimes to have picked something out and to have a cashier validate that choice.
But usually I just want to be left alone.
Brick and mortar bookshops do provide tangible benefits over Amazon. I can’t tilt my head to the side and scroll across a bookshelf on Amazon’s website. I can’t flip through all the pages of a book to see if I like it. And Amazon is definitely lousy at telling me new things to read. But reading is a very personal experience, and browsing a bookstore is something I like to do alone with my own thoughts.
Sometimes it’s nice to go with a friend. It can be fun to be looking down a row of titles and point out something funny to Brian or my wife, or to get a quick opinion as to whether I would actually read this. True, sometimes shopping with Brian makes me evaluate the depth of some of my choices, but we can’t all be reading tracts on Zen Buddhism and Octopus anatomy 🙂
I like cool bookstores. The Book Loft in German village is a labyrinth of different rooms, there’s a bookstore in an old church I like to go to sometimes, and Acorn is definitely fascinating. These are places to explore books, to discover books, but for me, they are not really places to buy books.
See I was ruined for buying books long before the ebook revolution changed our perception of book pricing. Frankly I think even ebooks are expensive. Most books to me, no matter how entertaining, life changing, or affirming, are worth 1-5 dollars. If it’s a book of thick research or mathematical significance, I might go into the teens. And admittedly I’ve accepted that graphic novels and manga are just inherently more expensive, but they’re printed on glossy paper with vibrant collars so that makes sense. Growing up with Half Price Books made me value books less (from an economic stand point). I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t think the book was valuable in every other sense, but while I’m not one of these hippies who think all information and media should be free, I think it should be very cheap (and most indie bookstores are not cheap). Someone wrote in a recent article defending the indie bookshop that if you walk out of there with four books for $60, they’re worth every penny. Maybe, but mostly likely not for me. Do you have any idea how far $60 goes at Half Price Books?
I like the treasure hunt of bookstores, I like standing in rows of bookshelves. And I like writing in bookstores. It’s one part good ambiance, and two parts reward for finishing an evening’s writing. I like the noise of other people browsing and talking, and whatever music is playing over the speakers. It’s calming, peaceful to me. And private.
Now I’ll admit I do have exceptions to this rule, but it’s a different kind of indie store. Down the road is “Play It Trade It” a place I’ve been selling my old PC games, and buying almost as many from in the last number of years. Lately, I’ve been ordering Chinese from Wang’s and then taking the 10-15 minutes wait to walk next door and talk to the guys. We talk about games, movies, bundles and beards. Sometimes they have recommendations (they’re the reason I’ve been buying so many game bundles) and sometimes we just shoot the s#@t. These are not purveyors of culture per sey, they’re just fun people. That’s what I’m really looking for in the retail experience, either peace and privacy, or fun.
How about you? Do you like to talk to people when you browse or do you keep to yourself?