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02 Jun 2011
Wow. I can relate so much to this! (via)

To quote:

"Anyway. Once compelled to the bookstore, I experience additional compulsions, such as

- Offering unsolicited help to confused-looking customers: Most of the time these are high school or college students, searching for assigned reading, usually in the wrong section (Contemporary Authors when they should be in Classics). Not only do I feel compelled to point them to the opposite side of the store, I’ve even gone so far as to walk them over there, and then suggest particular editions of the book. I try to avoid a route that would put me in the direct scope of the legitimate employees as I perform this unwanted service.

- Suggesting books to strangers: This compulsion is linked to another urge, the compulsion to look at what people are buying. If I see someone picking up a Philip K. Dick novel, I nosily ask about China Miéville, because I know that there’s a copy of Perdido Street Station that still hasn’t found a home. If some poor kid is in the Faulkner section to find As I Lay Dying for school, I become the creepy weirdo who suggests that she also read Go Down, Moses. On the “B” aisle once, my awareness of a used copy of 2666 became so distressing (why hadn’t someone already picked it up!) that I waited until someone else strolled down the aisle and tried to casually mention how awesome the book was, and that that person could not do wrong to buy it. Weird look ensues.

- Desiring books I already own: The copy of 2666 (which disappeared by the next week, thankfully) highlights another strange compulsion. If I find a copy of, say, Tree of Smoke, I feel compelled to pick it up and give it to someone. I have to remind myself that giving someone a 700 page book that got incredibly mixed reviews is not really a gift; it’s a dare or burden.

- Tracking books: So, yeah, I keep track of books. Why hasn’t anyone picked up Vollmann’s The Ice-Shirt in six months? Why is there still a used copy of Suttree? This is shamefully obsessive, but not as shamefully obsessive as—

- Hiding books: I don’t even know how to begin to start to try to explain this. Let’s move on.

- Buying books I’m pretty sure I’ll never read: I’m pretty sure that I’ll never get through all or even most of Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake, but I had to buy the first edition. When will I have time to get through Malcolm Lowry’s Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place? Why do I feel the need to pick up British Penguin editions of Aldous Huxley books that I already own (and have not read all of yet)?

- Scouring for book marks: I don’t know why, but I like to find what people have used to mark their places in their books. I have, to my great shame, transferred, on occasion, a bookmark from a book that I’m not going to buy to one I am taking. This isn’t exactly theft, but it feels like a strange violation of sorts."


20 Feb 2011
You might have heard the sad news about Borders filing for bankruptcy. I have never really liked chain bookstores and prefer independent booksellers, but to hear about their demise makes me worried about the industry in general. With the rising popularity of e-readers (which I kind of abhor), a lot of people are "going digital" and foregoing the value of real books. And now we have this kind of news. What's next for us book-loving people?

Nevertheless Sarah Weinman has a very interesting perspective about this whole thing:
"I can’t help but think - and I’m sure I’m stealing someone else’s analogy, so apologies in advance - that we’ll look back and realize massive superstore chain bookstores were the subprime loans and credit default swaps of the publishing industry. Was it really possible that a store with comfy couches, magazines, coffee, toys and games would ever be the right venue for the actual buying of books? That a company beholden to shareholders and the stock market could mesh with the art of recommending the right title to the right customer?

It’s no accident the superstore began in the early 90s, when Borders sold to KMart in 1992 and B&N finally went public in 1994, when we were climbing out of an economic dip and plunging into the go-go years of boom time. We could shrug off Crown Bookstore going under - first in 1998, for real in 2001 - because hey, that was family mismanagement, the culmination of bitter infighting and lax attention on the bottom line. We could ignore Borders’ bonehead move of outsourcing its online arm to Amazon because the digital world didn’t matter like we thought it did and we thought it never would. And later, we could attribute brick-and-mortar decline to so many of the usual suspect factors: the tanking economy, e-books, attention spans leaving books and moving to other kinds of media, and so forth.

But maybe what really happened was as simple as this: chain bookstores were never supposed to last as long as they did, and have reached their natural end point after twenty years. Publishing in general has enough struggle with scale, either being too small and prone to great risk and failure, or too big and beholden to larger entities who want greater and greater annual profits. Whatever possessed us to think bookstores could operate this way? Why is the art of bookselling supposed to be conflagrated with abundance, with excess and with millions of square feet?"