Archive for category Bookstores

Heavenly Visions From Back Here on Earth

Here is my vision, my personal wish list, in order of priority.

In Heaven there will be:

1) No leaf blowers or other noisy garden tools

2) Universal peace and love

3) An independent brick and mortar bookstore on every block, wedged between a coffee place and a really yummy restaurant.

The bookstores would all be different from one another. Some would specialize in a genre, such as speculative fiction, or lit fic, or mysteries, or whatever. There would even be a store specializing in books I would absolutely hate and think are pure trash.

Each store would be owned and operated by an individual, or couple, or very small group of partners, and would represent the taste and interests of the owner/operators, whose decisions would reign supreme. They could do special orders for anyone who asked, but would not be guided by popular taste in which books they would put on their shelves. No one could ban a book, or be able to remove a book from a store window. The bookseller’s decision is absolute. Blindfolds and white canes would be provided for the easily offended.

I want to be surprised by what I see. It’s great to know what I want and be able to get it, but I also enjoy not knowing what I want, the pure entertainment provided by the idiosyncratic collection of books someone else finds interesting. It is Bookstore as Art. I don’t like everything I see, but I love that it exists. I would visit the genre stores I liked, but would also tag along with my historical romance friends to the stores they liked. I love ideas, variety, comparing and contrasting, and finding the occasional treasure I never would have known existed without the unique perspective of one individual bookseller, not to mention my fellow book buyers.

That is Heaven.

Back here on Earth, we must make do with less. People do try. At B&N, we are familiar with the shelf dedicated to staff picks. It’s not nearly enough; it seems like a minor indulgence, and the individual picks do not form a whole. B&N varies by store, with some locations pretty fun to look at, and others oddly devoid or what I call “real books.” A celebrity weight-loss book by an actress is not a real book to me. Neither is a memoir by the adolescent daughter of a former governor. I wish they wouldn’t use their space so poorly. Give me real books, please. (Yes, I did specify that there would be a bookstore in Heaven specializing in books I hate, didn’t I?)

Bad bookstores need no longer prevent us from having what we want. Just about anything every published is available online, but how does one browse anything so vast? The search functions don’t do it for me.

These days, I do buy most of my books online, some ebooks, some traditional. I buy a lot of books from Mark and Cindy Ziesing, at http://www.Ziesings.com, and they are able to give me that “browsing” experience, minus the good restaurant and coffee shop next door, alas. The Ziesings are wildly idiosyncratic in their tastes, offering a fair amount of speculative fiction, but also mainstream, slipstream, erotica, downright silly, and unclassifiable. And if they bring a book to my attention, I feel I must buy it from them, and not from Amazon, even if it costs me a couple extra bucks. Call it a finder’s fee. Without booksellers like these, I would have only my own taste to rely upon.

(Examples of books brought to my attention by the Ziesings: Amberville, by Tim Davys, Swamplandia, by Karen Russell, and The Manual of Dectection, by Jedediah Berry. I recommend them all.)

From my non-professional viewpoint, I do believe independents can survive and even flourish online, as long as people know they are there. I suspect the non-ebook will become something of an artifact, that future readers will not have as many books on their shelves, but that those they have will be prettier, perhaps signed, or special editions of some sort. I don’t see quickly-yellowing mass-market paperbacks in our future. There is simply no need for them. Trade paperbacks and hardbacks will survive, and I will enjoy them for the rest of my life.

I’m not willing to speculate what happens after that. But if I awaken from death surrounded by celebrity bios, political blowhard tracts, and weight-loss books, and if that’s the only bookstore there is…well, I’ll know I didn’t make it to Heaven.

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Death and/or Transformation; I Cannot Tell

I read a few days ago that Dreamhaven, a Minneapolis bookstore specializing in speculative fiction, will be closing its doors in a few months, after three-plus decades in business.

I’ve been there probably fewer than half a dozen times, as I am not a resident of the Twin Cities, so I guess the closing doesn’t affect me.

And yet, I can’t help thinking about it.

Here in my suburban Southern California corner of the world, independent bookstores are a rare breed. I’ve gotten used to it. We used to have a some general interest, small shops, but most have been gone for years. It’s Orange County, California, for heaven’s sake; can I expect any different? But Minneapolis, sophisticated, cosmopolitan metropolitan area–well, I hoped for more.

Proprietor Greg Ketter gives his reasons at Dreamhaven’s website, below.

http://dreamhavenbooks.com/

He does not whine; he does partially blame ebooks, if “blame” is the right word. Maybe it’s not a matter of blame; maybe it’s only a matter of transformation. The mention of ebooks makes me twinge, however, because, for the first time, I sense technology is taking something from us.

So far, I’m all good with changes in entertainment technology. I do not long for vinyl records or non-digital transmissions. I do not feel that computer screens ruin our brains. I love that I can listen to radio shows from anywhere in the country on podcasts, find any (just about) movie or TV show online, and any (just about) song ever recorded for purchase. I like ebooks. Like, not love. There are a couple problems with ebooks. You can’t easily lend it to a friend or family member. You can’t mark it up or underline favorite parts. And it makes the brick and mortar bookstore pretty much obsolete.

A decade ago, I published a story called “Heaven,” in Tales of  the Unanticipated, in which my protagonist, an adamantly anti-religion atheist, dies, and finds himself in heaven. He awakens from dying to find himself in a rowboat in the middle of a lake, with Jesus walking across the water toward him. He is not filled with joy at this turn of events, for this guy hates being wrong about anything, and he is thoroughly pissed-off at being wrong about there being an afterlife, even though this afterlife turned out to be everything he would hope for.

You see, he had previously contemplated what he would want heaven to be, were there such a place, and what he wanted was for heaven to be an atmospheric seaside village (upscale, of course), dotted with a variety of gourmet restaurants, and at least one interesting bookstore. That is exactly where he landed. He got that vision of heaven from me, his author.

Once upon a time, long ago, my husband and I enjoyed an interesting bookstore near a couple interesting restaurants we frequented. Friday nights was when it happened. We’d have an Indian, or Mexican, or Italian meal, and after dinner, we would go to the bookstore, which was called Upstart Crow.

It was a small shop, and it had only a smattering of science fiction and fantasy, leaning instead a bit toward lit-fic. I don’t remember seeing the typical bestsellers there though; had the shop survived to present times I doubt you’d ever see a book authored by Sarah or Bristol Palin there. We always bought something. I don’t remember many of the titles, but I do remember the feeling, the wonderful, tactile experience of picking up a beautiful trade paperback, bringing it home, and opening its pages. The anticipation was delicious, as was the sense of discovery–heck, even the possibility of discovery. The delightful randomness of it all.

The difficulty of discovery may be what I find most lacking in the ebook experience. If you know what you want, no problem, just type it in. If you want to browse, though, you’re in trouble. Bestsellers, Top Featured, People Who Bought This Also Bought That. Boring. I want them to show me something neither they nor I know I want, but which might, just might be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen.

Oddly, this whole If You Like This Maybe You’ll Like That approach is working for me in music, television, and movies far better than it is for books. Amazon, I’m sorry, but your Suggestions For Martha are pathetic. In every area except for books, the technological changes feel like pure transformation, with little to mourn. With printed books, however, I feel a death has occurred.

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