Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Buying: A Shift In Perspective

Shopping, for me, is a torturous experience.  This is true at all times of year.  But it is particularly true this time of year.  My vision of New York City warps itself into nothing but endless bodies parading the sidewalks, like sausages oozing out of the casing on every subway platform and store.  I push through, sigh loudly in long lines, rub shoulders unwillingly.

At a dinner party the other night, I met some people who had made peanutbutter for all their friends and family for the holidays and I thought, Yes! Peanutbutter.  Next year, everyone will get peanutbutter.

These days, my local independent book store is the only place I can navigate with any sanity.  But I find myself frustrated even there. 

Several times in the past few weeks, I have stood with sturdy hardcovers and debated.  I have wondered, is this book worth it?  I wanted, desperately, to buy Tyler's mother The Bhudda In The Attic by Julia Otsuka.  Do you know how much that 144 page book is?  Do you?   

I did not purchase it.  I walked away.

Lately, I have wanted books I can not find.  Some written years ago, others, perhaps, just a little obscure.  I walked to the register, asked if I could order them, and was told I was better off looking elsewhere because it would take a long time to order them or they weren't available at all.

I stood with Murakami's 1Q84.  I stood with Joan Didion's Blue Nights.  I stood with Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.  I stood with Harbach's The Art of Fielding.  All of them, in their hardcover forms, with prices that seemed just a little too high.

Do you know how much I love books?  (you must, of course must)  Do you know how desperately I want to read all of these books?  

In the end, I walked out empty-handed.  I went to Barnes and Noble and bought only the Murakami book because I am desperate to read it and I knew I could get it at 40% off there.  

I also knew, in my heart, that I could purchase every single book I wanted on Amazon.  Every.  Single.  One.  You realize that they have them all.  

I know I am but one person.  A person who does not have an e-reader and therefore can only read library books or purchase physical copies.  A person who spends an obscene amount of money on books as it is. 

There are a lot of statements being made and debates being had about the way books are bought and sold today.  But I don't think it's about (even if it is about) evil empires versus Mom and Pop.  I don't believe it's about (even if it is about) what books are worth or paperback versus hardcover versus e-book versus used book.

I think it's deeper than that.  I think it's about being in an independent book store, going to an online retailer, walking to the nearest chain.  It's about standing with a hardcover, looking over at a paperback, being able to buy a book you loved once rather than a book you might love.  I think all of these things are working together to create a major shift in perspective.

It's about peanut butter.  It's about standing with a book and walking away. 


  1. I think about this every time I go on Amazon. I hate that their prices are just so good (and I have prime, so it gets here so quickly and for free). I set aside part of my shopping $$ to spend at the local place, too, but it never goes as far. But, what would I do without the little bookshop I go to play checkers at?

    I hope the rest of your shopping goes well!

  2. Change is hard, and unfortunately change is well on its it way in the book buying/book selling world. Who knows for sure where the chips will land?

    I hope you have a Merry Christmas at any rate :)

  3. Brilliant post.

    I empathise entirely. You are right - a great thinker. And books are delicious, a must, a part of the fabric of living and survival, whatever way they are accessed.

    Waiting to see how you are going with your own, in the New year.
    Plus ... take a peek at both mine and Spangle's blogs to see us Christmas lunching together.

  4. I feel this pain too. I want to buy so many books, but I have learned over the years only to buy those I believe I will come back to, either to re-read completely, or to re-savor in part, or to fond that one perfect aentence on a page I mark with a minuscule dog-ear.

    Amazon makes it so much easier to buy, and thus buy MORE than I might otherwise. But I am torn, because I do not always like their business practice.