“Showrooming” at Bookstores

Showrooming

This tweet went viral recently.

Fountain Bookstore is an independent bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. I’ve never visited the store, but from their web page, it looks like a place I would love: author appearances, staff picks, a robust children’s section, indie published books, even a way to buy audiobooks through the store, where the store gets a piece of the action. It looks to me like the booksellers have worked hard to create a great customer experience in a well-curated store.

Apparently they have fallen victim to a common practice in brick and mortar businesses. People find a book they are interested in, pull out their phone, and price shop on Amazon. Sometimes, they even buy on Amazon while standing in the store. Sometimes they even use the store’s free wi-fi to make their purchases. According to a WTVR story some people were bragging in front of booksellers: “They were looking up things and saying, ‘Amazon wins again, Amazon wins again, Amazon wins again’ ”

In addition to being incredibly insulting and rude (where is Miss Manners when we need her), it strikes me as being utterly oblivious to the wonder of indie booksellers that might be easily lost:

  • A bookstore in your community. A place to spend an afternoon or part of an evening.
  • Personalized service by knowledgeable booksellers, who over time get to know their customers.
  • A place shaped around your community–from local issues to local history and local authors.
  • A host for book groups and a resource for their discussions.
  • A local employer that spends money in your community and pays local taxes.
  • Part of that magic mix of shops and stores that turn places where we live into great places.

If you like the store’s vibe, do you want them to be around in five years? Ten years? The only way it happens is if you buy from them. And, when you buy local, you walk out with the book in your hands! No waiting for deliveries or risking them being stolen.

I get the impulse to save a few bucks. What I would suggest is that paying a bit more for the intangibles that enrich our lives in the real places we live might be the real bargain. Maybe buying less stuff but buying it local helps us both live with better economic boundaries, and live in a real network of economic relationships rather than one mediated by screens.

Here’s a thought. If you are going to pull out a phone in the store because you want to make a good purchase, don’t use it to find the cheapest price for the book, but rather to check out the reviews on the book, at Amazon, at Goodreads (now owned by Amazon), as well as other published reviews. (I kind of like using the online booksellers’ internet infrastructure to support local booksellers!). That can help you figure out whether the book is worth shelling out whatever price is being asked. At most, it will be a few dollars more, and many indie booksellers have some kind of discount program for regular customers.

Or better yet, just ask the bookseller about the book. Talk with them about your reading interests and whether they think you’d like the book. Or could they recommend something better? Their business is built on you finding books you like and trusting their recommendations. By talking with them, they get to know you. I’ve known some booksellers who call their customers when something new comes in they think they’d like. Sure, Amazon has algorithms and emails that do something similar. Personally, I like the human touch…

Why I Don’t Use Amazon Links in Reviews

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Screenshot of editing page for my most recent review, showing weblink to publisher.

If you’ve clicked on a book title in one of my reviews, you will discover that in nearly all cases, it will take you to a publisher’s web page for the book. Some may wonder, why don’t I use an Amazon link?

I did at one time until a bookseller friend whose work I value greatly challenged me that I was helping to dig the grave of his business. Since I want to see him, and other brick and mortar booksellers stay in business, I paid attention. He pointed out that I was essentially endorsing Amazon as “my bookseller of choice” by directing traffic to their website.

I hadn’t thought about that. Amazon links to books almost always come up at the top of a search for a book, even when you enter a publisher name. I was using those links as a matter of convenience. It is more challenging to find publisher links to a book, particularly for backlist books. And there are books I review sometimes that are out of print. In this case, I use a link to ABE Books, which provides connections to a number of booksellers who have the book.

So here are the reasons I don’t link to Amazon:

  • Do you want one bookseller “to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?”
  • I want to leave the choice of where you buy your books, and the format in which you buy them, to you.
  • I want to support publishers, who often sell the books online, adding to their revenues at a time where they face great pressure.
  • Publishers often have helpful marketing information about their books–video trailers, readers guides, author information, and more.
  • I want to support local booksellers whose presence enriches our community. Most also have an online presence, allowing you to order books and have them shipped to you, or available to pick up at the store.
  • Some of you may want to get it at your local library. I don’t want Amazon to replace libraries, which provide so many services, particularly for those who are financially strapped.

Finally, because I write about books and bookselling, I do not want to have a financial relationship with Amazon as an Amazon Associate. Yes, I actually could make some pocket change if someone uses a link on my page to buy a book from Amazon. But I don’t want to for all the reasons above.

I’ve concluded that for all the convenience Amazon offers, we are sacrificing a rich, local culture, as well as the subtler delights of relationships with librarians, publishers, and booksellers, as well as the serendipitous delight of finding what you weren’t, as well as were, looking for on the shelves of a local book store. That is not something I want to lose.

 

Review: The Bookman’s Tale

The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman’s TaleCharlie Lovett. New York: Viking, 2013.

Summary: Peter Byerly, a recently bereaved bookseller living in a small English village, comes across a hundred year old watercolor that is a striking image of his deceased wife, a find that sets him on a trail leading to what could be a major literary discovery,  but also to danger and murder.

It seems of late that I have discovered that there is a whole genre of mysteries set around the book trade. Most, including this work, on not destined to be literary classics. What this book does is combine descriptions of the world of antiquarian bookselling and restoration, with a riveting crime mystery, and with a tragic love story thrown in.

Peter Byerly has recently lost is wife at a young age and moved to the village of Kingham, England, living in the cottage he and Amanda renovated just before her death. In an effort to resume his bookselling career he peruses the shelves of a local bookseller. Inside a volume on literary forgeries, he discovers a watercolor that must be a hundred years old that could have been a painting of his wife. The only indication of the painter’s identity is an inscription that says “BB/EH.”

He teams up with an art expert who can shed no further light on the mystery. Meanwhile, the Aldersons of Everlode Manor invite him to help them sell some of their books. Julia, the sister reveals a box of documents in a box labeled “never to be sold.” They all appear of value, but none more than what Peter finds at the bottom–a slim volume that appears to be a first edition of Robert Greene’s Pandosto, on which Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale was based. Valuable as the edition may be, the real find are the marginal notes that appear to be written in Shakespeare’s hand–the Holy Grail of literary finds. There was something else: a list of owners where once again the initials BB/EH appear. This launches a quest to determine the book’s genuineness, provenance, and particularly the identity of BB/EH and how the book and painting are connected.

There is much more at stake than simply a great literary find. An art scholar who is working on a book that may shed light on the identity winds up dead with Peter framed for the murder. He and Liz are faced with the challenge of finding the true murderer before Peter is arrested, which brings them into greater danger yet.

This narrative is broken up with two others. One is the narrative of the Pandosto’s history, passing from one owner or bookseller to the next. The other is the growth of Peter’s two loves: for antiquarian bookselling and restoration under Francis Leland, the curator of Ridgefield Library’s Amanda Devereaux rare book collection, and for another Amanda, Amanda Ridgefield, the granddaughter of Amanda Devereaux, and whose family gave the school its name.

The three narratives alternate, tracing the book to BB/EH, Peter and Amanda’s relationship until her death, and the exciting denouement of the story. Apart from the many late night lovemaking episodes on the carpet under the portrait of Amanda Devereaux in the library, which seemed a bit creepy, the alternating narratives worked, both sustaining and relieving the plot tension. As I noted earlier, the reader gains a glimpse into the meticulous cared of book preservation, restoration, and binding, and something of the world of antiquarian bookselling and the authentication of rare and valuable works. Combine this with a murder mystery, and you have a delightful diversion for  bibliophile.

 

Review: The Haunted Bookshop

The Haunted Bookshop

The Haunted BookshopChristopher Morley. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published 1919).

Summary: A mystery in a bookshop, involving a book that keeps disappearing, a wealthy businessman’s daughter, a young advertising salesman, a gregarious bookseller, and a German pharmacist.

What could be better for a bibliophile than a mystery in a bookshop? This classic by Christopher Morley begins with a young advertising salesman, Aubrey Gilbert, trying to sell advertising to the eccentric and voluble New York bookseller, Roger Mifflin, proprietor of Parnassus at Home a.k.a The Haunted Bookshop. In an explanation posted in the store, it is explained that “THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED by the ghosts of all great literature.” Gilbert fails to sell advertising, but stays for dinner, listening to Mifflin share the first of several discourses on the mystique of books and bookselling that run through the book. Here is a small part:

“My business, you see, is different from most. I only deal in second-hand books; I only buy books that I consider have some honest reason for existence. In so far as human judgment can discern, I try to keep trash out of my shelves. A doctor doesn’t traffic in quack remedies. I don’t traffic in bogus books.”

The bookshop seems to be haunted by more than ghosts of great literature. A book requested by a bearded customer written by Thomas Carlyle on Oliver Cromwell is missing. Throughout the story, the book, a favorite of Woodrow Wilson, will reappear and disappear several times in the course of the story. When Gilbert returns with a lost and found ad for the book placed, not by Mifflin, but by a chef at a nearby hotel, a chef Gilbert had run into, holding the book he had advertised as lost, the mystery deepens as they puzzle over what could be going on. While mystery is deepening, love is blossoming. Mifflin has agreed to allow young Titania Chapman, the daughter of a wealthy businessman with whom Gilbert has an account, to get experience working in the shop, at the request of her father. The moment Gilbert meets her he is smitten.

He is also caught up with the puzzle of the missing book, which only deepens when he finds the cover, minus the book, sandwiched in some books in Weintraub’s drugstore, Weintraub being the bearded gentleman who had called that first night when Gilbert and Mifflin met. Before he can make it home, he is nearly thrown off a bridge into the river, suffering a blow to his head before onlookers come to his rescue. Worried about Titania, he takes a room opposite the bookshop. When he sees Weintraub go into the store after hours, using a key of his own, he assumes that Mifflin is in on the plot, perhaps to kidnap young Titania for ransom, or worse, the book being a way of communicating.

The real truth is far more sinister. Until Gilbert and Mifflin tussle on a Philadelphia street, Mifflin is blissfully unaware of what is swirling about him, lost in the wonders of books, and Gilbert woefully mistaken. Back in New York, Weintraub has left a suitcase of books with Titania for a caller. Both suspect that they were lured to Philadelphia to set up something far more serious and that the suitcase is dangerous. Will they get back in time? And what is in the suitcase? And how does it all relate to the mysteriously disappearing volume of Carlyle?

This was a delightful good time, with diverting soliloquies by Mifflin on books and scenes of domestic bliss with his wife and little dog Bock. One of the most amusing chapters was the Corn Cob Club, a gathering of booksellers discussing the trade. In this instance they debate whether booksellers have an obligation to steer customers to quality works, or simply sell what they want. As you might guess, Mifflin was in the former group. In another soliloquy, he declaims:

“You see what I’m driving at. I want to give people an entirely new idea about bookshops. The grain of glory that I hope will cure both my fever and my lethargicness is my conception of the bookstore as a power-house, a radiating place for truth and beauty. I insist books are not absolutely dead things: they are as lively as those fabulous dragons’ teeth, and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.”

He dreams of stocking a fleet of traveling Parnassus stores that will scatter through the country. Although Mifflin appears to be a bookstore version of Don Quixote with dreams of grandeur, how many of us have felt some of the same things as we prowled the aisle of a wonderful old bookstore? Yet he bests younger Gilbert, and awakens to the real world dangers facing young Titania. But will he make it in time?

For those familiar with the real world of books, you may know of author Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books in Nashville. As far as I can tell, Morley’s story was not the inspiration for the store’s name. Rather, as best as I can tell, they go back to a common source, the significance of Mount Parnassus in mythology as the home of the muses, or in the words of the real Parnassus Books, “In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus was the home of literature, learning, and music. We are Nashville’s Parnassus, providing a refuge for Nashvillians of all ages who share in our love of the written word.” It seems that Parnassus at Home was Roger Mifflin’s (and Christopher Morley’s) realization of the same dream.

Review: Bookstore

bookstore

BookstoreLynne Tillman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1999.

Summary: The story of Jeanette Watson and Books & Co., once one of the premier independent bookstores in New York City, connecting readers with books and their writers until their closing in 1997.

Jeanette Watson is the grand-daughter of the founder of IBM, and the daughter of Thomas Watson, Jr. who built the company into a computer industry leader. A reader from childhood, this daughter of wealth spent her early adult years working in early childhood education, mental health care, and going through one marriage and divorce. She struggled with depression, then faced hip surgery for congenital hip dysplasia. Facing surgery and a long recovery, she reached a turning point:

“I had a dream. The dream came almost immediately after I was told I needed surgery. I dreamed I was in a bookstore, surrounded by books, hundreds of books, and the place had two floors, and it was cozy. It looked like what would become Books & Co.

* * * * *

“Throughout the ordeal, the operation and the long recovery, the dream sustained me. I was determined there would be a bookstore at the end of the tunnel. One day I invited my friend Steve Aronson out for lunch. He was the only person I knew who was actually in publishing. I told Steven I wanted a bookstore that would look very old-fashioned, be like a private home, and carry wonderful books. There would be events, parties and gallery openings” (p. 13).

This book tells the story of the bookstore that came out of that dream, its twenty year run, and how Watson found her own calling in life in the process. The book, though authored by Lynne Tillman, is Jeanette Watson’s narrative of the history of Books & Co. and her own love of bookselling, interspersed with memories from publishers, writers, representatives, other booksellers, customers and celebrities about there experiences at Books & Co. The contributors anecdotes give us a sense of how Books & Co. served as kind of a literary nexus during this time.

It begins with Watson and her father investing in the startup after finding an old brownstone down the street from the Whitney, who owned the property, on Madison Avenue. She links up with Burt Britton, a book trade veteran who she signs on as a partner. The partnership lasted a year and resulted in “The Wall” representing the best of past and present literary fiction. Burt knew no limits to spending or acquiring books and eventually, Watson ended the partnership to try to meet the bottom line.

Watson realized her dream. She created a two story bookstore that included a green sofa on the second floor, and a curated collection of books centered on literature, philosophy, art, and children’s literature. She became renown for the authors who appeared and did readings in her stores. The list of those who did readings which appears at the back of the book is a snapshot of the literary world in New York in the from the late 1970’s to the late 1990’s. She was an aspiring writer’s friend, and introduced writers, and works she liked to the literary world, and underscored the important role booksellers play in promoting great writing.

Perhaps her greatest joy was connecting people with books, everyone from Woody Allen and Michael Jackson to ordinary residents of the city. Watson comments:

“There’s a significance too–almost a drama–in introducing readers to books. Dramatic because books can and do change people’s lives. I’ve felt that importance as much as I’ve felt it about introducing new writers to readers. Burt used to say, ‘It’s just as easy to read a good book as a bad book.’ If people were given the right book, they could experience something wonderful. One woman told me that she wasn’t a reader until the bookstore opened, but because of my suggestions, she was reading Balzac. It’s what I’m most proud of doing over the years” (p.52).

The book chronicles not only the joys but the struggles of bookselling. Apart from a few boom years in the 1980’s, it was a constant struggle to break even and Watson put a lot of her own money into the store. We get a glimpse behind the scenes of working with publishers representatives and making decisions about book acquisitions, working with distributors and staff, paying bills and making returns.

We also see the beginnings of a transformation of the book trade. Readers interested in the serious works sold by a store like this seemed to be aging and their numbers declining. The advent of the big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders (!) began to erode sales as people turned to booksellers who discounted. Amazon was just new, and not yet perceived as the force that would threaten them all. E-books were still in the future. But the internet was dawning and cable and video were supplanting reading.

The death knell of this great indie was rent. For many years the Whitney and Books & Co. enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, with people often visiting both. The Whitney was landlord, and as Madison Avenue rents were rising, it became necessary for the Whitney to raise rents on its properties to attend to their own bottom line. These rents became increasingly difficult to meet. There were negotiations, explorations of a merger with the Whitney, all coming to nought. After Christmas in 1996, Jeanette Watson announced the closing of the store on May 31, 1997. Some attempted to save the store, but it was not to happen. The last part of the book is painful in some ways, as the attempts to sustain the life of a dying patient.

Reading the book brought to mind the wonderful encounters I’ve had with great bookstores over the year, especially the ones where the booksellers knew their books and loved connecting their customers with books they would love. I wish I had visited this one. It also reminded me of the passing of so many of these, each like the death of a friend.

At the same time, the pronounced death of the indie bookstores seems premature. Their number is actually growing while Borders is no more and Barnes and Noble is struggling. People are still reading Jane Austin and Dostoevsky, and so much else.

This autobiography, of Watson and her bookstore gives a glimpse into what it takes to make a great bookstore. There is one wrinkle in the book that may be off-putting to some. Watson, like so many bibliophiles, has a curiosity for everything and writes with more fascination than some might find comfortable of inter-species sex and every form of human sexuality, as well as an author’s study of cannibalism. Clearly, this is written in the progressive (and transgressive?) literary milieu of New York City. At the same time, we see the power of books to introduce us to so much of the world beyond just our own experience and the wonderful gift bookstores like Books & Co can be to writers and readers.

Jeanette Watson’s new memoir, It’s My Partywas released October 10, 2017. A video interview with Watson on her book is available on YouTube.

Does Barnes & Noble Need to Think Like an Indie?

512px-Barnes_&_Noble_Fifth_Ave_flagship

Barnes & Noble former flagship store, closed in 2014. By Beyond My Ken (Own Work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses-SA/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Barnes & Noble just fired their CEO, Ron Boire, hired just over a year ago, as sales figures for the chain continue to decline, attributed to store closings, poor NOOK sales, and declines in sales at BN.com. At the same time, Barnes & Noble is experimenting with “concept stores” with larger cafés that serve alcohol.

I wonder if Barnes & Noble needs to start thinking much more like the indie booksellers, who are actually opening stores, seeing at least modest sale increases and are surviving the greatly exaggerated “death of reading.” First of all, I don’t think they are ever going to compete with the uber online bookseller. That despite the fact that BN.com has, in my opinion a much cleaner look and integrates well with its local stores, where you can order an item to be reserved in your local store (if it is in stock) and pick it up in an hour. Prime Now, which involves a Prime subscription and will deliver in two hours to homes in many areas has very limited selections in books eligible for such delivery, although they offer many other items not available through BN.com.

From all I can tell, indie booksellers work hard to draw people into their stores, particularly repeat customers. It seems that there are several key components to this:

  • Quality service from booksellers who love books. These are people who help you find a book, call you when a book you might like is in their store, and recommend books that fit your reading tastes. There are some of us who find the human touch much more appealing than an algorithm. I have to admit, the booksellers I’ve dealt with at our local Barnes & Noble stores have fit this description in many regards, although it seems I rarely deal with the same person twice.
  • Author events. Surveying our local Barnes & Noble store websites, only one of the stores in my area had any author events scheduled. This store had three posted between August 18 and mid-November 2016. The other events at all stores were events for children–a lot of events for children. I will give them credit for encouraging youthful readers, but what about events for teen readers, for young adult readers, for graphic novel readers? What about events for plain old adult readers?
  • Host book clubs and help launch and source community-based groups. According to a Publishers Weekly article, such groups have been an important part of indie stores bottom line. I could not find any evidence of efforts to encourage book clubs on local Barnes & Noble store websites, nor have I seen this in stores.
  • Host other fun reading events. Admittedly some stores have capitalized on parties around the latest Harry Potter release. Silent reading parties have become trendy in some places, a place to go and read quietly with others, perhaps with wine and cheese (which may be part of the idea for stores serving alcohol and having expanded cafés).
  • Use the web and social media not just to sell stuff but to relate to customers. Many indie stores, particularly used and rare stores in out-of-the-way places have a significant percentage of sales online. I think of one store I’ve ordered from on several occasions in an out-of-the-way part of eastern PA whose owner I’ve interacted with regularly via blogs and Facebook because of shared book interests. I’m a customer because of those interactions and even promote (with no personal benefit) his store on this site.
  • Give managers and booksellers a stake beyond just keeping their jobs. For indie sellers, this is their livelihood, lucrative or not. I could not ascertain from online searching whether Barnes & Noble provides any kind of sales or profit-sharing incentives. With that, I would also give a certain amount of creative latitude to these folks to market to their particular community’s needs and interests. There should be rewards for creativity and hard work beyond salaries or hourly wages, if it benefits the bottom line.

I don’t know what to say about Nook. It strikes me as the Betamax of the e-reader world–superior in many respects to Kindle in both hardware and software aspects, but a loser in the marketplace. Part of the challenge is the leveling off and decline of e-sales in general. Unless they can create the marketing cachet enjoyed by Apple products by combining elegance and technology innovations, I personally think they need to cut their losses and support existing e-readers and users of their phone and tablet apps.

I’d like to see Barnes & Noble make it. They occupy a niche distinctive from used bookstores as the only seller of a deep and wide selection of new books physically accessible in many communities. I just hope that they will decide to focus significant attention on the core of their business, and not just on fancier cafés. The indie sellers seem to understand that outstanding customer service and relations are key to their survival. I hope Barnes & Noble has not gotten too big to understand the same.

Bookstores as Safe Spaces

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Publishers Weekly posted an article yesterday titled When a Bookstore is Also a Safe HavenThe writer, an independent bookstore owner proposed the idea that for many, bookstores serve as safe havens during times of national or personal crisis. She wrote about the instinctive sense during 9/11 that her store in Utah be open, and it was packed. It’s not always that people want to buy books, but they want some place where it is safe to process, with oneself or others–patrons and booksellers.

I hadn’t thought of bookstores in this way until I remembered that on 9/11 I was in Cleveland for a funeral of a friend and between gatherings, and after the news broke, I had a few free hours. Where did I go? A bookstore. I drank coffee, followed the news, called home, and tried along with the others who I’d never met to wrap my mind around the truth that our world had changed on that sunny September day.

I’ve noticed that some of my favorite stores are those where the booksellers and many of the patrons know each other. It’s kind of like Cheers where everybody knows your name. Yet I hesitate with this as well. I don’t go to bookstores for a social life, or a confessional. I go for books. Sometimes, I’m a bit creeped out if a stranger gets too friendly, and as an older guy, I don’t want to be that person either! I ordinarily find my social life with family, work, and my church, and some other long time friends.

The article writer notes how stores, particular those who cater to particular communities, may serve as a hub at a time of crisis, as was an LGBTQ store during the Orlando club shootings. For others, there is a greater safety than in a church or a bar. I do find that some stores, particularly if they provide places to read or work with a beverage in hand, often develop a regular clientele who form a kind of community.

They also provide a place to help us try to make sense of what has happened, both in conversations and with books (a way us readers often try to make sense of the world.) As you know, I’ve been an advocate for the value of brick and mortar stores as “third places” as well as for the level of service they provide, particularly as they become to their patrons tastes. This article took it a step further, suggesting they provide a vital public service in times of crisis. In our scary times, perhaps that is something we should value and preserve. I’m glad there was a place like that on 9/11.

Bookstore Browsing for Beginners

Bookends and Beginnings interior

Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, IL (c) 2015 Robert C. Trube

For bibliophiles, walking into a bookstore is a form of paradise. But for someone who is awakening to a hunger for good books that go beyond what you can find in the local grocery store, bookstores can be daunting because there are SO many books. Where do you start? How do you find something you’ll like?

Bookriot ran what I thought was a helpful story on this recently, written by a bookseller. Perhaps her most helpful suggestion was to allow yourself enough time for a leisurely browse, at least 30 minutes. She also suggested asking booksellers or even total strangers for recommendations, taking time to pick up the books, read the insides of covers, table of contents, even the first pages. There are some other great ideas in this article as well.

Here are a few other thoughts based on my own browsing experiences:

  1. Consider a section related either to a reading interest or life interest of yours. Do you like to garden? Spend some time in a gardening section or the nature section of the store. Do you like to make or listen to music? Perhaps there is something about a favorite musician or composer or type of music that could enhance your appreciation. Like sports? Some of the best writing around is sports writing and some of the best authors have done it. Do you like mysteries or thrillers? Newsstands and book stands in groceries only have the latest authors. Bookstores often have authors that have been around for a while or the first book in a series that is up to 25.
  2. Look for books that have copyrights twenty years or more old. If it is in a new bookstore, there are people who have been enjoying it for many years and telling others to buy it and it has stayed in print and continues to be stocked. That’s a good sign.
  3. Spend time in just one section and get familiar with the authors, titles, subjects within that section. It is easy to just flit around and not really look at anything. Take time to browse titles that look interesting. If a bookseller comes by, ask if they have any recommendations for books in this section. Over a number of visits, you get to know a section and recognize when there’s something new. Also, as you read, you may see other books of a similar nature referenced, or even see recommendations of other books on sites like Goodreads. The next time you visit, you can look for that book.
  4. Choose a section you don’t ordinarily look at some times. Maybe if you read a lot of fiction, look at biographies. Do you like nature stories? Maybe take a look at the science section. Maybe current events in a particular part of the world have caught your attention. A history of that part of the world could be interesting.
  5. I check out best-sellers, recommended books, and featured books. If you have reading friends, perhaps they have mentioned some of these and, if it is a type of book you like, it could make for interesting conversation. This is a great way to learn about things you might not otherwise consider reading.
  6. I like to check out bargains as well. Sometimes these are on new releases, which can be a decent deal. Other bargains in new bookstores are often “remaindered” books that haven’t sold that well, so you might steer clear of those. Many used stores have a bargain area where I’ve discovered some real finds. Sometimes it is just a matter of too many copies of a book. You might even find something they are charging more for in another part of the store.
  7. Use your smartphone. I’m not saying use the bookstore as a showroom to order the book online. Rather, if you are interested in a book, look up the online reviews and see what others are saying about it. Then buy it from the bookseller who has created this place where you can have the pleasures of browsing and the serendipitous opportunities to discover books and authors you never knew about that an online algorithm would not point you toward.

I really like the article’s suggestion of allowing yourself some time. “Browsing” in these days of internet and smartphone is often an activity of frenetically clicking or swiping or tapping from one site to the next. It’s different in a bookstore. This is a place to slow down and savor. Usually the people who work in bookstores love books, like to recommend books, and realize that good recommendations mean you will keep coming back.

Don’t worry about finding the “right” book. Often I feel it is the case when I’m browsing that the right book ends up finding me. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK as well. I don’t mind walking out empty-handed rather than buying something just to say I’ve bought something. Perhaps you’ll look in different places, or there will be new books, or you will “see” something you hadn’t seen before even if it was there. The books will find you.

 

200,000 Views Later

Sometime during the day yesterday Bob on Books was viewed for the two hundred thousandth time since I launched the blog in August 2013. For some blogs, this is not such a big deal. They may get that many views in a month or even a week or less. I’m still surprised that over 137,000 visitors were actually interested enough to visit a page.

The picture above was the one that appeared on the first blog. Since then there have been 930 more posts (an average of 215 views per post) and something of a rhythm that includes two to three review posts, and usually something related to reading, something related to larger life issues, and, since May 2014 posts each Saturday on Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown. I take Sundays off from writing new posts, but often re-post old Youngstown posts or others from the archives.

I have to say that this has truly been a delightful journey. Some of those delights have been:

  • Readers: I’ve interacted with so many either on the blog or via pages on Facebook and Google +. With very few exceptions, people have been thoughtful, often appreciative, and many times have added insights of their own that have enriched my insights.
  • Admins:  I post on a number of Facebook and Google+ pages appropriate to content of particular posts. Page admins have been so gracious in permitting this. I could mention so many but several stand out: Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books, John Mulholland at Charles Malik Society for Redeeming Reason, Rob Bradshaw at Theology on the Web, David Swartz at Geezer 1, and those two amazing Youngstown women, Bobbi Ennett Allen at I Used to Live in Youngstown, and Joan Alfona Watters at I Grew Up in Youngstown. Tom Grosh at the Emerging Scholars Network has given a number of my review posts a second life and a wider audience.
  • Authors: I am surprised by how many times I’ve heard from authors of books I’ve reviewed. Most gratifying is when they convey that I understood what they were trying to do.
  • Publishers: A number of the books I’ve reviewed, and often enjoyed, were graciously provided by publishers. Yes, I took time to read and review these books. But I don’t take these review copies for granted. I hope I helped make their books known and helped sell a few.
  • Booksellers: These folks, especially the Indies, have taken so many risks and work so hard to pursue what they love. Its been fun to tell some of their stories and share what awesome places are their stores.

And a few concluding insights about blogging:

  • Strive for quality, and keep showing up. In my case, I had 3300 view the first year, 45,000 views the next year. Last year, I topped 100,000 views. Most of what I did was to just keep writing.
  • Persist in finding new places and means to connect with people you don’t know, and some will follow, and many others view.
  • Take your readers seriously. Respond where possible to their comments. Be grateful for them. They turn electrical impulses into conversations, shared experiences, and traffic of yet others to your blog.

All of you who follow, read, comment, share, and let me into your lives, whether readers or authors or admins have been gifts and made writing a joy. Very simply, thank you.

 

 

Ten Marks of a Good Bookstore

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

If you’ve followed this blog, you probably have the idea that I’ve spent a bit of time around bookstores. I’ve even reviewed a few of them. Along the way, I’ve formed a few ideas of what I like in bookstores. Here’s my top ten.

  1. An inviting entrance. Featured books inside the front window or inside the door. An attractive display inside. Good sight lines that enable you to get a sense of the layout of the store.
  2. Good lighting. I’ve been in some stores where it was difficult to read the titles on the books.
  3. Clearly marked sections and subsections or even a “map” of the store.
  4. A clear ordering system within sections so you can find your favorite author.
  5. Regularly stocking with new items and clearing out of deadwood. I’ve been in some stores where the same items have been in the same place for ten years.
  6. Clean and clutter free. One shouldn’t need a bath after a trip to the bookstore! Likewise one doesn’t enjoy tripping over boxes of books in the aisles or knocking down  a pile of books.
  7. Selection and specialties. Good bookstores go far beyond the bestsellers with good depth in the various categories. It also seems that stores develop specialties–usually several. It could be cookbooks, sports, philosophy and religion. One second hand store had a great selection of thrillers, mysteries, novels and romance stories.
  8. Places to sit and page through your finds. Good stores are comfortable places you are not in a hurry to leave.
  9. I always love stores with a bargain section, particularly if they throw in some interesting, but slower moving works or duplicates.
  10. Above all, I love a store with a knowledgeable bookseller who knows his or her stock, and has a passion for reading, and getting good books into the hands of others. Add someone who is cheerful and will take time to talk or help you find that hard to locate item and you truly have a winning combination.

I won’t guarantee that this will mean a profitable store. That takes savvy with business management, purchasing, marketing and much more. But I think the things I’ve listed above incline people to return and that has to count for something.

What would you add to this list? And what places are good examples of good bookstores?