Posted in books, Portland, writing

Viva la Bookstores!


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.

On the way to Powells, Mt. Hood in the distance

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?

Powell's, in the friendliest letters possible

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.

Part of the children's area

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.

Posted in books


So yesterday I treated myself to a trip to the bookstore. With all the hype about vampires from the new movie “Twilight” right now, it got me interested in finding out how many other literary portrayals of vampires there are.

Wow. Quite a few.

I haven’t read the “Twilight” series, since I’m not a ‘tween (not by a long shot). But I think when the movie comes out on DVD I’ll probably rent it, mostly because it was shot in and around where I live. Apparently the setting, according to the books, is somewhere up in Washington, but almost all the filming locations were here in Oregon. What a hoot. I can identify places in the trailer even. (Anyone want a postcard from the area?)

So as I said, I took myself off to the bookstores yesterday (I say ‘bookstores’, plural, because the first one so traumatized me I had to drive to Shangri-la, aka, Powells, down the road to calm myself). I wanted to look at the new hardcover annotated “Dracula”, Leslie S. Klinger contributor, and an introduction by Neil Gaiman. It’s quite the book, I’d say worth the $39.95 list price but I wasn’t in the mood to pay that much yesterday, and I’m not that much of a Dracula fan. But I had trouble locating it on the shelves. I expected it to be shelved where “Frankenstein” is, either in the sci-fi/fantasy section, or the “Literature” (capital L) section. But no. One of the salespeople(woman) asked if she could help, so she offered to look it up on their computers and see where it might be kept.

Now here’s the sad part. I’m in a bookstore, and I had to tell her, not only WHO the author was, but I had to spell “S-T-O-K-E-R” for her. Twice. I grant you, this was in a Borders, so the staff is not necessarily interested in their own merchandise. I guess I had this fantasy of bookstore clerks actually being readers themselves, knowing something about classic literature. :::::sigh::::: My bubble is burst. I could have understood it if I’d asked for something by Solzhenitsyn, but Stoker? But lo and behold, there it was, in the “Horror” section, with Stephen King. I wandered around for a few more minutes after being unimpressed with the two paperback copies of Dracula they had in addition to the new hardcover, then drove down the road to Powell’s where I was greeted with many editions of Dracula. I picked up a Dover thrift edition for $3.50, and a Terry Prachett, “Witches Abroad”, because I thought a good laugh was in order at this point. I got out of there only $7 poorer.

And shame on me, I missed Bram’s birthday, November 8. Happy Birthday Bram!

Posted in books

Borders Books Dropping Some Sci-Fi?

I just found this article over at io9, and am dismayed by Borders decision not to stock some new titles and even debut novels in the genre.

Gregory Frost discovered that his new book, Lord Tophet, follow-up to the successful Shadowbridge, is not being picked up by Borders. At all. Apparently it didn’t “sell as well as anticipated.” But no one seems to know what well enough is.

So the publishing world is becoming even more narrow, always looking for that next blockbuster that will earn them bazillions of dollars, and get picked up by Oprah as her latest book club pick. God help us. Frost has a following, more than most of us will ever dare to dream of. And he’s not the only respected author to be so slighted. It’s bad enough I don’t like ordering books through Amazon anymore after their “join or die” ultimatum to self-published books, forcing them to use Amazon’s inhouse publishing or not be carried (but that’s another story). But are we losing yet another book source?

I am sorry to see the business model come to this. Literature is no longer revered in our culture. If you like books you’re almost considered some kind of walking anachronism. If it’s not electronic, beeping and whirring, you’re out of touch. Reading takes effort, imagination, learning. Book sales have been in decline for years, to no one’s surprise.  J. K. Rowling almost single-handedly brought it back into fashion, but that was an anomaly, there probably won’t be anything like that again for twenty years. We need something to read in the meantime. Most books, in any genre, are not going to generate that kind of sales revenue. I wonder who’s next after SF. I don’t know if boycotting Borders is the answer, if book sales are already down that may be counter-productive.

I miss the old days of the independent bookstores. I’ve even ordered stuff via the web from an out-of-state independent bookstore. I miss the feel of wandering a store stocked with nothing but books. They don’t have to be huge, just have books. My local favorite is Powells. They are a real, brick and mortar store (with several locations in the Portland, OR area), and although they do sell stuff like cards, calendars, some very interesting Hindu religious statues, Buddhas, incense and so on, they are for the most part a bookseller. It’s quite an experience to visit, they actually have maps of the store to find your way around.  Perhaps we should all remember to patronize our local indie booksellers, they may be all we have left.