Fair warning: this is, as the kids say, my lived experience. If you don’t feel the same way, that’s fine. I imagine this post will be fairly controversial. I don’t care about your retail Stockholm syndrome. So save it.
Here we go.
If you asked most people to say something about me, most of them would probably mention that I love books. And not just reading them. I like the way they look, I love first editions, I love the smell of paper, I love turning pages.
I own more unread books than I should. I feel comfortable having them around “just in case.” I dream of having a house with a library, books floor to ceiling, with piles and piles of them everywhere. My main goal in life is to write books for a living.
Despite all that, I have always felt unwelcome in bookstores.
When I was young and clad in heavy metal t-shirts, employees would hover over me, waiting for me to steal D&D books. I never did because I had money from working odd jobs and cleaning my dad’s bar. I had my first “real job” at 14.
As I got older and my tastes changed, I wanted to have conversations with people who worked in bookstores. After all, wouldn’t we have a lot in common? They were almost always lame to me or dismissive. Men who work in book stores are the worst. It was like they wanted to make you feel intellectually inferior so they could justify their minimum wage existence. I’m sure a lot of the coldness of the women in book stores could be explained by countless interactions with desperate dorks.
The older I got, the more I became comfortable with my own tastes, I bought what interested me. Yet clerks would sneer at me when I asked for Kerouac books. I guess they were too passé. “Looking for Stephen King? Yeah, we don’t carry that shit. Try the mall”
Big box book stores were just as bad. Middle management (where ambition meets lack of talent) was always quick to remind me I wasn’t in a library. No shit. Libraries don’t have massive 50 Shades of Grey endcaps.
I have few fond memories of bookstores. Notable exceptions would be my visits to Powell’s in Portland, City Lights in San Francisco, and Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. But these aren’t just stores, they are temples. I might even go as far as to call them sacred spaces. And the employees in them seemed to get that. Their slightly warm indifference to me was welcome. Their high prices were not.
There is one bookstore I can think of where people have been pleasant to me: The Booksmith in San Francisco’s Castro district. Their selection always meant I had to look elsewhere, but their sci-fi section is pretty good for a small, non-specialty store.
I wanted to love Borderlands, but I can’t say I ever feel like shopping there. Maybe it’s me.
Look, no one is forcing you to be nice or helpful. But bookstores are a business. In San Francisco, book stores are closing all the time. And whenever the newspaper writes a story about one of them dying, the comments sections are full of sadness.
I have no hesitation praising Amazon from the perspective of a reader. They have everything and their algorithms make great suggestions. If you’re a writer, their Kindle program offers a much more equitable split than most publishers. If you work in their warehouse, well, that seems like it sucks. I don’t have an answer for that, but it’s pretty low on my hierarchy of concern.
You could blame Amazon. You could blame e-readers. I would. But I also blame the people who own and work in book stores. You’ve always been cunts to me.
And for that, I say good riddance to you and your fucking cats you pretentious nerds.
The future is here and so is the book I got for a dollar I ordered on Amazon. You know, the one you said you couldn’t get.