I was thinking about the years my kids were still into wearing costumes – no holiday required – and we’d head to the bookstore: me, Superman with a dishtowel for a cape, and his sidekick in a knight’s helmet, shorts, rubber boots and a whistle necklace which he was not to blow in the store.
My boys knew exactly where the books they loved were located, and liked to open one after another and explore every genre and turn the rack of Little Critter paperbacks round and round. We often read books to each other for an hour or more before choosing which ones to buy.
We love going to the bookstore together just as much now as we did then, but our visits have dropped off. More often, we sit at one of the many computers in the house and type our orders into Amazon. We don’t stray from our lists. It’s just so easy to do it this way, but there’s none of the sense that we are bonding or creating good family memories with this way of shopping.
I hadn’t noticed this fact until our discussion at LitPark this month. Your answers to the question – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indie? – changed me. And so did my guest, who not only made me realize the invaluable role of the liasons between publishers and bookstores (Cory Doctorow describes them beautifully here), but the hit these stores are taking each time we choose to shop at Amazon.
When you buy from an independent bookstore, $68 of every $100 stays in the community. Think about what that means in this economy. And now think about what it would mean if physical bookstores disappeared altogether.
Here’s a little story for you. I like to take my kids to The Book Revue when there are visiting children’s authors. A couple of years ago, I took them to see Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, who had co-written a prequel to Peter Pan (called PETER AND THE STAR CATCHERS*) that my youngest loved, and that evening was the launch of the follow-up prequel. * = for an indie store click here
Dave Barry wore a Peter Pan hat and talked about what it was like to write a book with another author when one liked to work from an outline (Ridley) and the other liked to wing it (Dave).
Green-Hand, the one who used to wear the whistle necklace, was sitting in the first row with his newly purchased book, already reading and not at all bothered by their talking.
And then the terrible thing happened. Dave Barry (who might as well have slapped my son) opened his own copy of the book and began to read aloud from Chapter 3.
Green-Hand, still on Chapter 1, stood, pissed, and dragged his metal folding chair from the front row to the back of the bookstore, saying they were ruining the book by giving away what would happen. It was a long and loud while of pretending we weren’t related, and when he reached the back wall, he sat down in his metal chair and opened the book again.
At the end of the reading, the kids got in line to have their books signed, and I insisted that Green-Hand join his brother there. That’s him in the green shirt. And he’s smiling. Or trying to. Because I told him he better.
What will the world come to when there are no more physical bookstores, and all the readings are on YouTube? How will you show your righteous indignation? Who will hear you scrape your chair across the floor? These are the important questions we must ask ourselves.
And this is why I’m going to suggest that you join me in a little exercise this month. Click on this Indiebound link and type in your zip code and find a few indie bookstores in your neighborhood. Then have a visit. See if there’s anything that might bring you to the store on a regular basis: a book club, a café, wi-fi, comfy chairs.
Introduce yourself. Tell someone who works in that store that you’re a writer. Tell him or her what you like to read. Learn something about the person you’re speaking with – maybe that person is a writer, too. Maybe he or she has an interesting story. Ask questions about the store. Find out if they sponsor readings, if they have a website, if they’ll order books for you that you’d otherwise buy from Amazon.
Just try it, and I will, too. I’ll be bringing the kids.
Normally, this is where I tell you what I read this month, but all were galleys, and I don’t want to give away future guests. I will, however, share the book I’ve been reading to my kids: Trenton Lee Stewart, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY *. It’s about extra-smart kids who are chosen to take a secret test, and if they do well, they will be given a “very special opportunity” – but is this a good thing? We’re just a few chapters from the end (the book is 485 pages) and absolutely love it. Every chapter is strange and unexpected and dangerous. And this author understands how alone smart kids can feel, which adds a real depth to the thrilling plot. * = for an indie store click here.
Okay. That’s it for March. Time for me to get back to the new book I’m writing. Thanks to everyone who played here, and to my guest, the very awesome bookseller, Ann Kingman. And thanks to those who linked to LitPark this month: Bookdwarf, Kash’s Book Corner, The Debutante Ball, Word of the Day, Daryl Ebneezra Kadabra, Bookavore, BitterSweet Blog, First Person Narrative, Bookies, Erin Balser, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Brad Listi . Com, Side Dish, Gray Skies, Endless Knots, and Read by Myfanwy. See you next month!