I’ll keep this short. I want to read Roberto Bolano’s new book The Savage Detectives. Really I do. I love Latin American literature. And Amazon says this big novel is one of the top ten novels for 2007. But there’s a small problem. And it’s not the author’s fault.
Friday I was in Ithaca, New York. I stopped in the Cornell Store and saw that they were selling the book for the list price, $27.00. This seems like a lot of money for a book, even though it’s new and hardcover and I want it. When I got home, I found in my email box an advertisement from Amazon offering me this very book at 40% off, for $16.20. And I could get free shipping if my order totaled $25.00. How could this be? I wondered.
So I went to abebooks.com, my favorite used online bookseller, and I found used copies of the book beginning at $16.79 plus shipping. In other words, the used books (probably review copies) were more expensive than the new book from Amazon delivered to my mailbox.
I want to support my local, independent bookseller. That would be The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts, which has been a community institution for more than thirty years. I love that bookstore. I have given readings there. I have attended readings there. Matthew, the owner, has good wine at readings. He has a great selection of books. He stocks books people love. And he’s succeeded even though Barnes and Noble opened a store nearby. But I digress. I want to support my local bookseller.
But as far as Roberto Bolano’s book is concerned, is my commitment to independent bookstores worth $11? For this one book? I’d like to think it was, but frankly, I can hear padlocks snapping shut on the front doors of most independent booksellers near here. That would be a terrible.
And now that Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc. are approaching, and the gifting season is upon us, people who give gifts probably want to stretch their gift-giving funds. I’m worried. Because all of that desire to save drives people to Amazon and B&N. And that’s is a real danger not only for my friend’s bookstore, but also for the lovely, lively, local, independent institution of bookstores generally.
Please think about this briefly before you shop. I don’t want bookstores to go the way of the small town hardware store.