Monday, October 31, 2005

Finally, Someone Says It

While one can understand an attack on Waterstone's for its dull, one-size-fits-all stores, Amazon is the most exciting bookshop in the world. It's Willy Wonka's Book Factory, Disneyland for bibliophiles. Those who want a return to the days of the small independents are the real fantasy merchants.
Look, I'm genuinely sorry for the owners of independent bookstores, and for those readers lucky enough to live near a really good one who are now watching it flounder because of Amazon and big box bookstores, but the fact is that for most readers (and I'm including, and probably concentrating on, English readers in non-English speaking countries), independents are not a bookish mecca. If you're like me, your local bookstore is understocked and overpriced, and its selection rarely deviates from whatever thriller is at the top of the bestseller lists this week. Science fiction and fantasy? Forget it, unless your tastes run to Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks. And, of course, everything's available at a markup of 50-100% of the cover price.

To put it simply, here are a few books I never would have read if it hadn't been for Amazon.


pigeonhed said...

Yes, and no. A couple of years back I was desperate to get hold of Richard Paul Russo's short story collection Terminal Visions so I asked the owner of my local SF bookshop to order me a copy. Four months later he hadn't been able to get it. The UK distributor had offices in the next town, I was passing so I went in and asked them. They were confused. SO I went on Amazon and it arrived in about ten days.

On the other hand, I like to browse. I like the possibility of random discoveries. Last week I went into my local used bookstore for a quick look (quick meaning less than an hour in this context). Almost straight away, on the rack of recent arrivals I saw something I had never heard of, but it looked good. It looked interesting. It was £8.50 I bought it. Later, having read it, and seeking some details to post a review on LiveJournal I checked Amazon. They had a copy at £34.00.
I like Amazon, I use it too much, but I love my local store.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I've had some limited amount of success with Amazon's recommendation wizard (The Last Good Kiss, for example, is a book I never would have heard of if it hadn't been recommended by Amazon), but in general I find that it's best to take those recommendations with a grain of salt. You're right that there's something about walking into a bookstore and just leafing through books that an online shopping experience can't replicate.

But, the last time I spent an hour in a bookstore was in Bangkok, in a branch of a Japanese chain called Kinokuniya. When I walk into an Israeli bookstore, I know within five minutes whether there's anything there of interest or (which is more likely) whether all they've got is stuff I've already seen.

Anonymous said...

Got the last good kiss at the Pratt here in Baltimore thanks to you and enjoyed it. Have never bought anything at Amason becasue, frankly, I get most of my books from libraries and comic books and online. The thing is, once we all buy (Or watch tellie) from same source IT decides for us what we can know. Decline of indie bookshop is to be seen in THAT context. Also my dear, not all have credit cards and web acess. The poor too deserve the option to read. Israeli book giant stemitski recently sold out btw so even in the IL market things are looking up. No one could've thought of a sci-fi Heb mag ten years ago.

Cheers from Balt.


some random person said...

My loyalties lie not with the small, independent bookstores, but with the small, independent used bookstores. These joints really are meccas: last month I purchased Cryptonomicron, Stars My Destination, The Demolished Man, The Female Man, Wicked, Hammered, The Name of the Rose, China Mountain Zhang, the Female Man, Sunshine, Teranesia, and The Poisonwood Bible for about $70. $70! Most of these books are "like new." I'd be hard pressed to ship all those from Amazon for anything less than twice that amount.

Then again, there are some things I'll only ever be able to get from Amazon. And guilt is no substitute for a business plan.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Hagay, you're right that the poor deserve to read too, but someone who doesn't have a credit card is also likely to be someone who didn't have the disposable income to spend on books in the first place. What that person needs - what we all need - is a well-stocked, easily-reachable, free library. You're lucky to live in an urban area where a library like the Pratt is available to you (isn't The Last Good Kiss the best?), but poor people in rural areas often don't have that opportunity.

SRP, you're right that a good used bookstore is better than any other kind (short, of course, of a really good library). I've found one in Haifa that I'm quite fond of, and Hagay pointed me towards a very nice one in Tel Aviv, but of course the selection depends on what other English readers have brought into the country, which usually means that, once again, SFF readers get gipped (on the other hand, it can be quite amusing to see the journeys some of these books have made. I once bought a copy of Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas that had been printed in London, sold in South Africa, brought to Israel by a previous owner and then sold to me).

Still, you've inspired me. To the used bookstore I go!

some random person said...

Whoops -- I actually only purchased one copy of The Female Man, and my copy of Cryptonomicon only has one 'R' in its title.

Yes, my book purchases are severely constrained by my financial considerations. Unfortunately, I find most libraries are also very hit-or-miss with SFF.

That particular trip to the used bookstore was exceptional. I usually find nice things, but they aren't generally the titles I was looking for. This was an unusual occasion in which I walked in and said, "I wonder if they have... oh, look, they do. What about... oh, they have that, too." Normally used bookstores don't deal in instant gratification like that.

Anonymous said...


Us book maniacs have a right to know!!!



Post a Comment