For me, being able to visit a bookstore is a treasured experience that online book buying will never be able to equal. (What’s Harvey got to do with it? Nuthin’, ‘cept he’s a local landmark at a marine supply shop. No idea.)
A few days ago, Evil Wylie (@EvilWylie, aka Andrew Shaffer) tweeted out a link to an article on Gawker about bookstores being used like a showroom by book buyers, who after perusing shelves, head to Amazon to mail order. I retweeted this with the comment that I do the opposite: I use Amazon to find out about books, then typically head to my local bookstore (Powells) to take a look at the physical specimen, skim a couple pages to see if I like the author’s style, and if so, buy it there. Little backwards of what some people do, I guess.
Now I will admit I like Amazon’s feature that suggests books based on what I’ve previously looked at or purchased. Yes, full disclosure, I do buy books and other items from Amazon, although looking at all my Powells receipts that later become bookmarks it’s hard to believe. And that is where I flip things.
However, I’ve discovered that I don’t trust Amazon’s descriptions. I pay zero attention to the reviews. For one thing, I have often seen reviews for something that don’t even seem to apply to the particular item I’m looking at. It’s just not helpful.
And then there’s something heady about opening the doors of a bookstore and running smack (with luck, not literally) into tables and shelves piled high and stacked floor to ceiling with books. Books books books books books. As far as the eye can see (slight hyperbole). I feel like an alcoholic showing up at a kegger. Oooo, shiny! I am frequently overwhelmed, in the best way, by all the choices in front of me. Wander wander wander up one aisle, down the next. Back to the first. Wow, what’s this? I never heard of this author, what’s this about? Wait, what was I looking for? I finally figured out I need to make up a shopping list before I go so I don’t get distracted and forget which books I was setting out to buy to begin with. What about books in foreign languages? I’ve picked up books in Norwegian (a second edition Asbjørnsen & Moe) and French at Powells. Not language learning, books written in other tongues. I don’t think Amazon offers much along those lines. Maybe someday they’ll integrate with their other stores in France, Germany, etc., but for now we’re pretty much restricted to English language here in the U.S. I’m sure some of that has to do with release dates being staggered and licensing but once a book is out, it’s out. If I wanted to read a Norwegian author in Norwegian, I’m outta luck. (If anyone knows where I can get books in Norwegian please let me know.)
I have this thing, too, about holding one single book in my hand, as if it’s a little universe unto itself. All the action, dialog, scenery, imagery encapsulated in this marvelous little package that I can take myself to and revisit whenever I choose. Like individual planets in space, I like the separateness of each little world. I feel as if I’ve slipped the bonds of time and space and landed Someplace Else. Ok, I’m feeling a little fanciful here. Remember when towns were actually separate from eachother, and each had a distinctive feel to it, its own quirks and uniqueness and personality? I suppose reading books on electronic readers can still transport me, but like urban sprawl, how do you know where one town ends and the next begins?
Sure I could spend hours in the bookstore, but I feel like it would take a lot longer to even see all the options I can peruse in a real life bookstore. Looking stuff up on Amazon is great for pin-pointing something, but I like to go to the bookstore, pick it up, see it, look through it, and see if it’s what I thought it was, if it’s really what I wanted. Amazon’s displays can be deceiving (although not intentionally, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there). Save money? I can’t tell you how often I’ve found books on special or at special pricing at Powells. I picked up a copy of Ulysses for $6.98. Sure, Amazon has free shipping over $25, but if you buy a used copy from a third party, that doesn’t apply. (Ulysses was brand new, btw)
I thought I’d share a little virtual tour of Powell’s Cedar Hills location, aka my second home (just imagine aisles and aisles like this, I only show about 10% of the store in these). This is where the majority of author signings seem to be held, as this location has more open floor space than the Burnside location downtown. I got the ok to take some photos, although I think I weirded out a couple of customers. Oops, sorry ’bout that. My haul today was The Conqueror’s Shadow by Ari Marmell (@mouseferatu), The Postman, by David Brin (@DavidBrin1), The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, and a steampunk novel called The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann. That last will be my first foray into steampunk, it looked intriguing.
But just think: someday we’ll all have neural implants like Johnny Mnemonic, and books will be instantly downloaded to your head, implanting them, and sparing you the time and trouble of reading them at all.