Friday, April 06, 2007

What Does Make a Bookstore?

A very old post on bookstores, "What Makes a Bookstore?", at The Millions (A Blog About Books) got me to thinking about my own experience at the bookstore a few days ago.

When it comes to hanging out, it's hard to beat the chains. Your nearest Barnes and Noble probably has dozens of plush chairs and couches where you can sit for as long as you want. The stores are vast wide open spaces with a controlled climate and a bit of piped in music wafting just overhead. The shopper can make a day of it, grabbing a snack and a coffee from the cafe and lounging through the uncrowded weekday afternoon...likewise if you need to pick up a specific title, but don't expect to walk away with anything unexpected from these forays. Don't plan for a literary discovery.

I’m a very frequent shopper at Borders. There are at least three on my way home and, as a Borders preferred member, I enjoy saving 10 and 20 percent when I can. In addition to that, I can usually find what I’m looking for in less than five minutes, even in the smallest Borders and I like making an afternoon of it, lounging in the “plush chairs” and the “wide open spaces.” Theoretically, I could do this at the library but the libraries in D.C. are so unesthetically depressing that I try to grab what I need and get out as soon as possible. A few days ago though, I went into Borders with no particular book in mind, looking to be pleasantly surprised I suppose, and found only...more of the same. All of the prominently displayed titles were books I’d seen on bestseller list after bestseller list for last two years and I thought, “Is this all the book world has to offer right now?”

I left soon after, empty-handed and disappointed, which is my own fault really. I should have known better than to expect to be pleasantly surprised at Borders. Needless to say, my recent experience and The Millions old post have reminded me as to the error of my ways. It’s not on my way home, but I don’t care; I’m going out of my way tonight to make a beeline to the nearest indie bookstore, the amazing Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. I can hardly wait. And I'm pledging here and now that from here on out I will do all of my one-stop book shopping at independent bookstores, whenever and wherever possible. It's time I started doing my part in keeping the dying breed of independent bookstores alive.


Max said...

Kramerbooks is great. Glad to hear that my post inspired you to stop in for a visit! I hope you find something good.

J.S. Peyton said...

I didn't, but I felt a whole lot better for having gone anyway. I think I may go back though and pick up the Christopher Buckley novel "Boomsday."

Matt said...

Like you, or used to be, I am a frequent shopper at Borders. But I've felt that I should start shopping at independent bookstores. Unfortunately, there aren't any very close to my house. I'm just going to have to make the sacrifice and travel a little farther, there are at least two I have in mind that I'd like to visit. Thanks for the encouragement!

J.S. Peyton said...

Over the weekend I went to two independent bookstores and I got more excited about shopping for books than I've been in long time. There were just so many potential titles to buy; titles that I had never heard of before! I don't think any book-lover could suffer from shopping at indie bookstores. Unless, of course, you miss those 10% off Borders discounts, which, I admit, are nice but the trade-off is worth it. Glad I could help!

The Traveller said...

I love Borders - whenever I'm in London, I try to get up early just so I can hang out in the giant store on Oxford Street. Like you say, the big plushy sofas are a huge draw! I usually manage to find something in there I want to read; Borders was where I discovered Pablo Neruda and Carlos Fuentes, but I owe a lot to my local independent as well. Somehow, although they are tiny, they invariably have at least four books at any given time that I want to read. The mark of a great bookshop!