12 May 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Two!

Welcome Back to "May at the Movies"!

This month's theme feels like a survey on Family Fortunes: "We asked 100 people to name a place where you can find books . . ." I'm sure the top answer would have been a library, which we covered last week with Beauty and Beast. Today, we have what would likely be the second most popular answer. (And after this, I'll just have to scramble around for two more . . .)

Remember that you may grab the badge from the sidebar and write your own Locus Focus post at any time. =)

Fox & Sons Books
You've Got Mail

"I sell cheap books. Sue me."

It's easier to find images of the other bookstore in the movie You've Got Mail--which isn't surprising. The small, cozy, indie Shop Around The Corner is a sentimental, nostalgic dream. Fox & Sons Books is the big, bad corporate Goliath threatening to huff and puff and blow the little David down. (I couldn't decide between the two allusions, so I just used them both.) Besides, most viewers would already know what a mega bookstore looks like; but every small, privately-owned shop is its own little revelation.

So as much as I'd like to say I support my local indie book seller, my own six-word memoir of the day seems to be: I buy cheap books. Sue me.

I appreciate these big chain stores, their deliberately impersonal atmosphere, and their economies of scale. I like taking my time wandering through a store without feeling pressured to make a purchase (an impression I never took away from an indie book shop--although, granted, I've only been to a handful), and I especially love the various promos that let me get extra discounts on brand new books that are already at their most competitive price. But now . . . I kind of feel bad about it. 

Last month, I had to review In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan for one of the magazines I write for, and while I was reading it, I was struck by all the parallels we could draw between what we feed our bodies and what we feed our minds. And when I was typing up the previous paragraph of this post, Pollan's message that food is too important to be quick and cheap suddenly doubled as a message that books are too important to be quick and cheap. But if small business bookstores were the norm, books would be too expensive to be so mediocre. 

Well, yes, in that ideal world we'd still have some answer to the penny dreadfuls: every generation does. But I'm starting to think ours is the first one virtually swimming in them. Manuscripts no longer have to be really good to be published; they just have to be really profitable. And although the two qualities are not mutually exclusive, I can't believe how bad so many releases of the last ten years are.

Being surrounded by thousands of crisp, new, sweet smelling books stops being such a heady experience when about 80% of them aren't worth the perfumy paper they were printed on.

Image Source: Fox & Sons Books


Sullivan McPig said...

I myself sometimes feel bad for ordering books online, especially when I heard our local bookstore was on the brink of bankruptcy. But the difference in price is just too much. If I buy a book online it costs me between 5 and 6 euro. the same book costs me between 8 and 10 euro if I buy it at my local bookstore (and that's when they actually stock the books I want to read).

Enbrethiliel said...


You're right, Sully, that sometimes the indie vendor's price is just too high. =( Then we realise that we're not paying for the books alone, but also for the local bookstore. And I guess that's fine if it at least stocks the books you like to read, but in your case, it wasn't even doing that.

Luckily for my own favourite local-yet-mega bookstore, buying books online is still the more expensive choice for people who live here. But you can bet that the second this is no longer the case and the brick-and-mortar store has no extra value to make up the difference, I may just jump ship, too!

But that scenario brings me back to the principle that books are too important to be easy and cheap. You won't find books that were easier to produce and cheaper to buy than self-published, "straight-to-Kindle" works, and I frankly have not read one that has proven to be worth more than the price. The more popular online vendors become, the more digital books will flood the market. And one day someone will have the same thoughts about a huge online retailer that I have about my huge chain bookstore.