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On buying books

On the top floor of Foyle's book store yesterday, I turned down the chance to browse the shelves in any section of my choice. I left without buying anything. The one temptation I passed, marked-down thing-a-day calendars for 2006, were all ones I'd worked through in previous years.

More and more, I find that book stores are places I avoid going to idly. I go to find presents and I go to meet friends and I go when I need fiction and have no particular book in mind. There is nothing like a book store (or open-stack library) for browsing. I am most willing to indulge in unexpected fiction, found by chance or sudden recall of a once-enjoyed author. Even cookbooks or food history books can be an occasional whim; I am new enough to the genre that I know of far more books of interest than I possess. I eke out my purchases, a very few at a time.

Last week, when I placed an Amazon order for two academic books, I included a food book as an extra treat in my order, a classic to supplement the geographic range of my existing collection. Claudia Roden's A New Book of Middle Eastern Food fills a continent-sized hole; but it wasn't why I placed the order. I wanted - needed perhaps - the two academic books, and not just any book could fill that particular niche. I needed very particular books. Sometimes I need them in very particular editions. And given the convenience of online ordering, for the books that matter most, I almost always mail-order these days.

My tendencies war with my deeply-engrained conscience, the importance of keeping independant bookstores alive and well, something which won't happen without my footfall - among others. Small independant bookstores are especially vulnerable to the convenience behemoth. They especially need me and my book-buying compulsions. But I still need them too, especially on days when I have forgotten what fiction I enjoy, or wonder what else is out there I might like to read, and only browsing the shelves, at leisure, will suffice.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
I'm with you
I avoid bookstores, too, alas, because every time I idly browse in a bookstore I will find things that I want: I am guaranteed to either spend money, or leave disappointed by "the book that got away". If I were wealthy, and could afford to simply drop money when I saw something I wanted, I could browse in bookstores more, but right now, it's just a heartbreak.
Mar. 6th, 2006 01:13 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm with you
I need more bookshelves. And book ends. And books. But for now, I have to ration them all.

Someday we will both have enormous houses and an unlimited book-buying budget, I'm sure of it.
Mar. 6th, 2006 01:18 pm (UTC)
But of course
We are destined to have rooms filled with books!
Mar. 7th, 2006 11:46 am (UTC)
Re: But of course
And with spare room to walk around and actually see all of them too. Much as I like books, I prefer them for reading than, say, for insulation.
Mar. 6th, 2006 01:15 pm (UTC)
While I don't avoid bookstores I don't go in them as frequently as I did before I worked in one! It's funny but they're not as relaxing now that, to a certain extent, I associate them with work rather than play.

I also find that I'm less willing now to spend money on an unknown title/author. Even with my favorite authors it seems as if, in recent years, the standard of writing and editing has decreased. I've been disappointed several times by horrendous editing and now am less willing to purchase a book without at least a recommendation from someone else I trust to support it.
Mar. 6th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
When I buy books online, I'm usually looking for an academic book, but I often end up buying a second non-academic book. Provided they arrive together, I think it makes the academic book feel less cloistered, as if it had friends and mattered to the world of novels and cookbooks and anime DVDs. Which it does, but sometimes my "smart" books get a bit down on themselves.
I'm powerless in a real bookstore. I'm incapable of a single purchase, unless it is for someone else. I hate to participate in the destruction of indie bookstores by my constant online purchases, but I, and my wallet, are safer that way.
Mar. 7th, 2006 11:48 am (UTC)
No wonder the book on early medieval history has proved such reasonable reading so far. It had a pleasant journey over to me in the company of exotic recipes. Books do appreciate a little love and good company, as Mirrormask taught me last night.
Mar. 7th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)
Lamin' Gaiman
Wow! We just watched Mirrormask too. We turned the Oscars off halfway and watched that instead.
What did you think? I loved the scene in the library, but the rest of the movie left me cold. I think I'd much rather read it in long comic form. All the writing reminded me too much of Stinky Cheese Man, since I don't really know Dave McKean's other work.
Mar. 7th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Lamin' Gaiman
Does that mean that it's now out on DVD in Canada? It just opened in the theaters here. I know, it's been touring the festival scene for something like a year now.

The framing story was a little too cliché, but otherwise there was enough visual niftiness, occasionally intriguing music, and other quirks to tide me through. It's not a strong story, but it's an interesting world. I only know of Dave McKean's work, haven't read any directly, but I this movie has a great deal in common with what I expect The Wolves in the Walls would be like; and that says a certain amount about target age ranges too. I loved the fish, quite liked the sphinx, and remember the chicken fondly. I suspect that "See? That's educational." may become a stock phrase.
Mar. 6th, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)
The Pain of Print
I find myself avoiding the big bookstores because I find them almost painful in their enormity. Behemoth is exactly the word, but far from avoiding because I'll buy something, I'll avoid them because I get so overwhelmed with how much print our society produces.

The more I get into the medieval literature and getting especially acquainted with the manuscript culture, I find modern books to be absurdly verbose and almost cancerous - like verbage is a sick growth on their main point. I find myself dissecting their arguments in about ten minutes, and then checking if I want the book because of the bibliography. It's quite sad.

Now the small, independant stores still draw me - especially if they're dripping with older books no longer in print. That's the thing, my tastes these days are for such rare books that I find I can only find them through the web-based merchants (Abebooks is one of my favorites), but the money is tough to come by.

I miss fiction, but find I get petulant about the time they take to read. Actually, I just read "the Rule of Four" and that one had me rivited. Great Book!
Mar. 7th, 2006 11:53 am (UTC)
Re: The Pain of Print
The quantity of produced print is exactly why it's important for me to vet my academic books in advance. Just because it's a book which deals with the right topic doesn't mean it'll be the least bit useful to me. It's true, extensive flipping through will often reveal this clearly, but not always.

I missed fiction too. I didn't allow myself to read it while dissertating, except while travelling or, if an urgent new book, over a weekend once in a while. Being in the middle of a fiction book was far too distracting for me. The Rule of Four was fairly engrossing, although sad in many ways too - so many people wasting away for so much time.
Mar. 6th, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)
I went to a bookstore last week and did not buy anything! Actually, this is much easier for me to do in the big stores than in the little independent ones with resident cats (there's a rule about cats and used bookstores, isn't there?) As much as I love to buy books, I've got out of the practice unless it's something I know I will read more than once or that I will use often -- or that will be really hard to get. Mostly, I go to the library. That may change now that I have a budget, though ...
Mar. 7th, 2006 11:55 am (UTC)
Perhaps that's why Europe's only used SF/F bookstore is struggling a little: no resident cat!

One of the first things I did when I moved here was look for the local library, only to learn it had closed about six months earlier. There's none close, and the one library I'm at regularly and have circulating privileges with has no real humanities component, so is fairly useless for fiction anyways.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )