Sunday, May 18, 2008

Are You Buying Fewer Books?

So it looks like my bookstore isn't quite giving up the ghost yet. Which is good for me, since I have no other job skills, and also good for Ithaca. I have to say, though: where did all the customers go? The last couple of months have been deadly dull. No one comes in! No rousing chit chat. No nothing. Does it have anything to do with that $3.96 we're paying for gas around here?

How about you? Are you buying fewer new books? Is this a temporary trend, or a long-term one?

I've cut back a bit, mostly because I'm putting all my cash into my garden this month. But I've read some good stuff. The new O. Henry Awards collection isn't bad; I bought it because there's a story by a guy I know in it (Alexi Zentner, who's a student at Cornell and one of the stalwart Bookery II customers) and an Alice Munro story. Haven't read Alexi's yet, Munro's is good, of course, but I was quite taken by Michael Faber's "Bye Bye Natalia," about a Ukranian woman who's trying to decide whether to become a mail order bride. I liked it so much I bought his collection of stories, Vanilla Bright Like Eminem. I think that's an awful title, but it shows some guts.

Also, did anyone else read the Joyce Carol Oates story in the new Harper's? It's called "Suicide by Fitness Center" and it's creepy, especially knowing that JCO's husband recently died. I have mixed feelings about her, and think she ought to write more slowly and let someone else have some shelf space, but when she's good she's awfully good.

18 comments:

Pale Ramón said...

I'm buying fewer books than I once did, mainly because I'm broke. I depend upon my local library to get the books I need, particularly the ILL department, and, really, there's nothing I can't get if I'm willing to wait. The few books I've purchased this year have either come from small presses, and are thus unlikely to become part of the library's catalog (though you'd be surprised at some of the gems I've found) or are in Spanish.

I should add that I've been traveling a lot this past year, but my purchases have also been dictated by the lack of shelf space in my home.

Mr. Saflo said...

I haven't been buying any books, but that's because I don't have a job. It's sort of good, though, because when I worked at a bookstore, half my paycheck went back into the place and I'm now stuck with a room quite literally piled with books and a near-empty bank account.

Alicia said...

Usually I do a big splurge once every two months. I'll drop $70 on a mixture between recommendations, a reading list, and whatever the bookseller tells me is good. Recently, I got my boss out of buying books from B&N and now he goes to the independent bookstore across from the office. It's funny how he didn't even know it was there, though he's been at the office's neighborhood for years.

myles said...

Down here at the far end of the world, we're paying $1.50 a litre, which is about $5.70 a gallon. So I'm buying lots of books by mail order, 'cos I can't afford to drive anywhere. Let them come to me, I say.

I'm not up to to Manguel's 30,000 books, but I'm getting there.

Glad to hear the store's staying open.

Diana Holquist said...

Hey, that's great the store is keeping at it. It would be embarrassing for Ithaca to not have an indy book store.

I just saw JCO speak in Lancaster, PA. Tickets were $85 a pop, and the place was packed. She talked about how a lot of her friends who used to be successful writers can't get pubbed now to save their lives and how writers who are "successful" often end up killing themselves. It was very uplifting.

Plus, I had no idea, she said she writes suspense under the pen name Lauren Kelly, so she's taking up even more shelf space than one might have thought...

I only buy used books, unless they're for my kids. They get whatever they want, read it in 20 seconds flat, and want more.

-d.

bloglily.com said...

My last two book acquiring binges were at the San Francisco Public Library and Moe's Books in Berkeley (used rather than new this time because the school year's ending, and there are a lot of great used books to be had.) Before that, it was Junot Diaz at Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza near my office in San Francisco, and an Amazon package which contained Rick Riordin's next book in the Percy Jackson series for one of my sons. (Oh, that's not true -- I also bought a child who seemed to feel that his life would not be complete unless he owned a book called Bad Asses which was for sale next to the cash register at Pegasus Books in Oakland, on a night when I also purchased the Onion's Atlas, which my kids cackled over for days.) I know that's awfully specific information about my book buying habits, but you did ask, didn't you?

I love my library card, but also think it's good to spread around whatever cash that's available to make sure the great independents keep going. When I have the money, I try to do that. I don't want to have to buy my books from chains for the rest of my life.

AC said...

I've actually bought more new books in the past year than any other year since I left college. When I worked at a bookstore, I wasn't earning enough to pay rent, let alone buy books. Now that I work someplace else, I can drop some cash on a book now and then. I'm mostly buying up the classics that I always checked out of the library in the past.

Writer Reading said...

I just went through a long self-inflicted book-buying dry spell, so I'm buying more books. I tried the library thing, which other family members love, but I am someone who has to compulsively write in the books I am reading or I won't remember them. I have to have a conversation with the book, which is impossible with those greasy books that have been through a million germy hands like an old penny...you get the picture. But there is no small independent bookstore nearby. They've all been wiped out by Barnes and Noble. Even the ones that look small. So...I'm a guilty Amazon orderer. For such a big operation, it's amazing how many books they don't have that I have to get from Powell's. Forget Barnes and Noble. Hopeless.

Mark Hoobler said...

I work at a bookstore in Ohio, and like someone else posted, my current income from the glamorous world of bookselling keeps my book-buying at levels much lower than my pre-bookselling employment (when I was much unhappier if more financially stable.) We do however get a fair number of ARCs from the pub reps, and I have gleaned my last three fiction reads from these: Tree of Smoke, Then We Came to the End, and Brookland. So while my book-buying is down, the things do still tend to accumulate around the apartment. (I think on the whole, books sales for my store are down from where they were two years ago when I started.)
But my last purchase from the store was also the O. Henry collection, which I picked up mostly for the Steven Millhauser story which I enjoyed.

rmellis said...

Yeah, I wouldn't recommend bookstore clerking for "making money," but it's more fun than any job I ever had, even dishwashing and teaching college.

Saflo: I love, love, love Waffletown.

Alicia: Thank you for supporting the independents! I feel like the big boxes will soon collapse under their own weight, so we'll need these little stores.

Myles: When Britons complain about their high gas prices, I always think, Well, you have great public transportation, and you don't have so far to drive, and all that tax you pay means you don't have to buy health insurance! But I don't know what it means in Australia, where you must do an awful lot of driving...

DH: JCOates has it the best: $85 a ticket!! She's like a rock star. Wouldn't you hate to be her formerly-successful-but-now-
unpublishable best friend? What are your kids reading these days? Owen reads anything but fantasy, and Tobey only reads comics.

BL: I feel like I need to know you. Ithaca has a great used booksale twice a year, but the last thing I need is more books to pile on top of the unread new ones I bought from my store...

ac: It must have been painful to work at a bookstore and not be able to buy books. We get a big discount, and a line of credit, and my resistance is non-existent.

WR: I don't write in books much, but I wish I did: I think it's good to add your own thoughts to the writer's on the page. And when I come across something I wrote when I first read a book, I love being in my old head again.

MH: I haven't read the Millhauser story yet. I used to love him back in the day, but then I got tired of him. Will definitely try again...

AC said...

I actually didn't feel the need to buy a lot of books when I was working at the bookstore. Borders had a policy at that time (I assume they still do) of allowing employees to sign books out and take them home, so the store was my library. I don't think I visited a library once during the 4years I lived in that city. In spite of the crappy wages, I remember remember my stint at Borders fondly. We were a good crew.

Mark Hoobler said...

rmellis - is your bookstore an independent? and what size if I can be curious? I work at Joseph-Beth, which calls itself an independent, but has about 7 stores throughout the midwest and south.

rmellis said...

AC: JRL worked at some early Borders, Philly and Ann Arbor I think. He liked it! It had an independent feel back then, as I understand it.

Yeah, Mark, my store's independent, just the one store. Pretty small, one cash register, three rooms. Lots of books packed in, though! We have a sister store that's used and rare books...

Writer Reading said...

Is it an old abacus or a real cash register?

AC said...

I worked at a Philly Borders! But it was from the later generation of expansion. If I remember correctly, Center City was store #15 and Bryn Mawr was #30. My store in Wynnewood, by contrast, was #281. Anne Arbor, I assume, would be store #1, the mother of all Borders. It's weird how every store within a chain has its own culture. I would not have wanted to work at any other Borders but mine. I worked at an independent bookstore also, and it was so much more dysfunctional. The down side of being an employee at a family business is that if you're not family, you're nothing. A corporation actually offers more protection.

rmellis said...

AC: I was wrong; JR's girlfriend worked at the Philly Borders and was instrumental in starting the whole coffee bar thing. Then John worked at one in Madison, WI, one that just opened. They wouldn't hire him in Ann Arbor so he did temp work when he lived there. But I didn't know him in those days.

My bookstore is surprisingly functional for a tiny, threatened business. Everyone who works there is totally sane.

WR: the cash register has one of those black and white text only monitors from the late 80's! There's no scanner -- I have to type in the ISBN numbers. It's attached to a dot matrix printer in the back. Ha ha, I love it.

AC said...

Oh, gosh. Now you're bringing back memories of my independent bookstore days. But I was using a cash register like that in the mid-90's. I didn't know there were any still in existence.

Beda said...

We are buying about the same number of books, a small portion of which are new. Those with the fresh ink smell are books we just can't wait to get our hands on. For general reading we go to Legible Leftovers, a charming using book store with three biblio cats roaming the aisles. We have so much credit we are now selling extras online. People are buying! Then there are garage sales. Once in a while we hit the jackpot with those. We can't assume people aren't reading because they aren't buying new. Avid readers will find a way in any economy. I have not mentioned the library, have I? Only because I am notoriously bad at returning on time. Would love to wander around your bookstore, maybe even pick up something new---