The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Hip hip!

Posted on: January 20, 2007

The Abigail monkey is off my back. Three cheers! The novella camped in the back of my brain, its grey, ghostly tentacles occasionally reaching out to the pre-frontal, reminding me that I had not yet produced a post. Now I can start getting something done with House Rules.

Odd moment yesterday. As I stepped out with a friend from the library, our thoughts on military uniform designs for space soldiers and beer, the woman who checked our bags noted my Chapters bag filled with purchases and shuddered.

“Chapters is a scary place for people who love reading.”

After regrouping I told her that our local independent did not stock Madeline Hunter, Emma Holly or Colleen Gleason (last time I checked) but if I were looking beyond the realm of mass market paperback it was usually the first option.

I couldn’t help but find her response excessively silly but we have completely different backgrounds. When a fellow Jamaican and I first visited Chapters as first year undergrads we fell silent in awe. Here was a book store, an entire building of formidable size not a block of space in a plaza, with inventory that was not dictated by school curricula because that was all the bulk of their customers could afford or which held their interest. There were shelves and shelves and shelves of nothing but fiction, all kinds of fiction, not just books by Nora Roberts, Stephen King and Robin Cook. We could peruse these novels at our leisure. No one would be eyeing us suspiciously if we held a book for more than a minute, mentally urging us to either buy it or get the hell out; in fact there were chairs, laid out, inviting us to relax, take a rest, see if you like it, spend the whole day if you have to. Ordering books was so easy and there was no added cost for shipping. And it stayed open until ten!

(Nevermind my reaction when I visited Toronto. I nearly cried in reverence at the *size of some of the used book stores.)

So pardon me Mature Library Bag Checker if I think you’re full of crock. I quite appreciate the fact that the local independent has the opportunity to make the inventory reflect its character without frustrating customers who must drive to another town if they wish to browse through a new romance written by someone other than The Nora. Which is what would happen if we didn’t have a chain.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that independents cannot survive alongside chains. I used to pass by my independent every day, shaking my head morosely at its tiny spot, its unassuming appearance, convinced it could do nothing for me that Chapters had not done and more. Still, it was a store that sold books so I could not resist forever. One day I left it with a book glowingly recommended by one of the booksellers, which turned out to be one of those touchstone novels you cannot imagine ever not loving until your last breath.

Gradually I became a convert. The booksellers, the permanent ones, shared my love for and held an even greater knowledge of books. They knew about the different Don Quixote translations and shared which they thought was the best; what Penguin was doing with their deluxe Proust editions; why publishers insist on distinguishing their “pedigree” books by damning them with those **raggedy ends that make it more difficult to turn and flip through the pages. One night the manager and I had a discussion from everything on the irrelevance of the NYTBR to litblogs to Murakami until closing time; I left with a Joan Didion essay collection he had recommended.

My independent may not offer deep discounts but it knows how to show appreciation for frequent customers. It has a points system for getting a discount but I know that the manager has given it to me a bit sooner than warranted after I first reached the quota. Chapters, on the other hand, became increasingly focused on the kind of buyer that only reads bestsellers and whatever Heather Recommends (which is about the same thing) rather than on rewarding a loyal customer base. They dropped the points system in favour of offering bigger discounts on bestsellers and similar nonsense. Still, they dropped the cost of qualifying for free shipping so I figured it was worth it. In the last year of the four that I was a member I continued to buy at least 3 books on the website every month, not including in-store purchases and the extra bump with a LOTR dvd or Harry Potter book release. What perks did I get for this? Not a damn thing. I wrote an e-mail and complained to an in-store employee. Nothing happened. The local indie manager smiled at me and gave me an extra $5 off my total purchase. The used store manager smiled and topped up my credit. I mooned Chapters and told them to stick their membership program up their arse.

It is only the Starbucks with the fireplace and comfy sofa chairs and the literary journals that keep me there. They readily have the latest releases from the few romance authors left who don’t bore me to death and I will take advantage of the discount on hardcovers in the one or two months I forget I have a book budget. Their website is for nothing else but checking to see if a certain book is in-stock at the brick & mortar.

Where am I going with this? Oh, yes, it becomes increasingly clear that Chapters is being run by an illiterate dodo but try and keep things in perspective, eh? Chains have their niche to fill and their patrons, though it horrifies, may actually love to read. Of course if they go through with their mad new scheme, all ***bets are off.

*Yes, eventually, one must think of selection but the very thought of so much commercial space devoted to books still makes me light with bliss and wonder.

**Embrace technological progress and stop being such damn insecure bourgeois. I’m embarrassed on your behalf.

***Which adds up to little more than egging their windows and getting my literary journals else where (ouch).

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