Every week there’s a fashionable new book.
One week it’s Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, then it’s Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, then it’s Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, then it’s Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. Not to mention Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of The Iliad, which is so untrue to the text that I wonder if he reads Greek.
Modern civilization no longer depends on my supporting the book industry, because I can’t keep up.
Couldn’t they slow it down a little?
Approximately 288,355 books were published in the U.S. in 2009, according to Bowker, a collector of book data for publishers and bookstores. And that doesn’t include ebooks and print-on-demand books.
Who’s buying all these books? We have a few thousand at our house, and know it’s time to weed again. We sell or give some of them away before we buy more.
Even though we can’t keep up, we always browse. Then, as all of you know so well, there’s the shopping dilemma. There are so many consumer choices that none of them seems right:
1. Independent bookstores vs. megastores. Indies are the Good Guys and Megas the Evil Empire. Trouble is the indies will suck your bank account dry, the megas will put the indies out of business.
2. Megas vs. Online bookstores. Online stores destroy megas like Borders as well as indies. Onlines have websites and no overhead, with UPS warehouses fulfilling a lot of orders. Are these bookstores?
3. Books vs. e-books. E-book sales, as I understand it, are up, up, up, while books sales are down. I have an e-reader and I enjoy it very much, but don’t want the e’s to put the books out of business.
4. Used bookstores as well as new suffer from the online competition. Perhaps quick online shopping detracts from the joy of random treasure-hunting at used bookstores. For instance, I was delighted when one tiny out-of-print paperback (one penny + 3.99 shipping) was delivered by UPS the other day. But at used bookstores you never know what you will find, and that’s the fun of it.
MORE ON PHYSICAL.
I do not look forward to the day when, as in Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story, we’re all glued to apparati (phone-devices with all our personal information flashing on them) and the virtual is more real than the real.
But we’re not quite in that world yet, and life is still an excited rush to the bookstore when I get my tiny salary ($300 a class–if that’s not pathetic I don’t know what is) and can examine the books on my list.
In theory I prefer physical bookstores, but sometimes there are awkward encounters with unsociable employees. Recently a megastore clerk looked askance at the five books I was buying and asked if I wanted gift receipts. Since I see him every week and always buy a couple of books, I wondered what he thought I’d been doing with books all these years. Not reading? Giving them as gifts?
And anyway it wasn’t even a holiday yet, so what was the gift concern?
“Oh, no, I like to read them myself,” I said brightly.
Well, not very brightly, maybe.
Maybe he was snotty. Maybe he was just concerned about my shopping. I don’t know.
There are still some fantastic bookstores out there, and great booksellers, but the bookstore culture is waning. The mega in my town is shrinking its fiction and poetry section.
It makes me frazzled to think that the physical book culture is NOT MY CULTURE anymore. I hate to think it’s a retail environment that doesn’t care about books.
THE FIRST SNOW.