Once again I find myself somewhere towards the middle of my life’s seesaw, trying to achieve a balance between my heart and practicality. At issue this time is the purchase of a book, specifically, Lynda Barry’s encouragement to timid creative souls to take up pen and/or brush titled “What It Is.” It came to my attention in an article in some high-minded, well-regarded national publication listing the 25 best books on writing by writers. Its wackiness, as described, appeals to my unconventional sensibilities, and, once I have digested it, will very likely add spark to my granddaughter, who thrills me with her yearning to pursue a writing life.
The troubling matter is that the few bookstores nearby do not have the book in stock, which isn’t terribly hard to understand as it is 10 years beyond publication and not especially popular. The problem for me, though, is that it leaves me with a choice between having the book the day after tomorrow from Amazon, or (maybe) sometime late next week for $6.00 more from a local, independent bookstore. My nostalgic heart wants me to lend support to the dark wood stain shelves and new book smell of the brick-and-mortars. My practical brain says that time is money, and money is short, so click a few keys on the computer and sit back for a couple of days until the package arrives at my front door.
I suppose, like most things, this is a situational dilemma, and here’s mine: I live in a seaside tourist area. The bookstores here cater to the summer best seller beach read crowd, and offer little consideration to the year-round locals.* In fact, very few businesses here give consideration to the year-round local population, but that’s another blog post for a later time. When high season is over, the bookstores keep their prices at summer highs (on a recent price check, factoring in local taxes and shipping, one local book sold at about three times the Amazon price). I believe I will take the tact that it should be up to the local bookstores to figure out if it is worthwhile to them to compete with on-line book sellers, and how they might best go about accomplishing that (hint: it doesn’t necessarily have to be competitive pricing). Right now that doesn’t seem to be a priority for them, so my buying decision is made a little easier.
Other situations? If you live in an area where local bookstores make an effort to engage with the reading public, offering added incentive to walk through their doors and buy their books, maybe that is something to strive to preserve, even if at a higher out-of-pocket cost. If I were in your shoes I might think of it as a Life Enhancement Tax.
* Edit, 2/24/18: I meant to mention that the apparent model of the local businesses seems to be to maintain a reasonable stock of current best-sellers, as well as a section of books under the banner of “Local Interest“. This being a seaside tourist town, that would include a smattering of books about local geography and wildlife, historical fiction and non-fiction of the region (lots of pirate lore), and a handful of tomes by resident writers. If one is prone to being captured by interest in random esoterica (not coastal related), it will likely follow that on-line booksellers will be the only recourse, unless a couple hours of travel to the “Big City” is acceptable. I should add that, as hard as the local library system tries, I’m hitting less than 50% on book searches there. So, back to my original conclusion, which is, for areas of small (or only seasonally high) population, your best bet for books that are not on anyone’s “Best Seller” list is someplace like Amazon. If you have a vibrant local bookstore that caters to wide interest, you would do well to support it.