Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zen and the Art of Book Browsing

By Steve Weddle

If you're like me and my pal Clark, then you enjoy browsing.

Here's what Saturdays are like at the Weddle cabin. We head into town for some Chinese food and bookstore trips.

This weekend, I grabbed some Tom Franklin, Haruki Murakami, and Lawrence Block. The rest of the family came out empty-handed.

And here's how this happens. I went in looking just to look. Everyone else was looking for something in particular. A certain series. A certain author.

This is one of those used bookstores in which the people are nice, polite, and completely overwhelmed. Not unhelpful so much as unable to provide help. Maybe that's the same thing. I'll never know because no one knew where the dictionaries were.

You ask for a certain author. Rick Riordan. Harry Harrison. Sally Jenkins.

Nice Bookselling Person: "Hmm. I think we had something."

Me: "Ah, OK. Where could I find the Riordan."

NBP: "You looking for a certain series?"

Me: "Percy Jackson."

NBP: That's over in the corner with the children's books.

Me: Sure. That's where I looked. I was having a tough time. How are they organized.

NBP: The children's books are in that corner.

Me: Yeah. I got that whole "in the corner" part. But they're just kinda piled up. I thought they might be in alphabetical order.

NBP: Hahaha. Yeah. That would be great. We haven't had time to get to that.

Me: Ah, sure. Well, do you have a section where I might find a book on organizing? I was thinking of getting it for this business-woman I just met.

NBP: Back in the far corner with the self-help. Should be a couple of boxes marked self-help.


Lucky for me, though, I wasn't looking for anything. So I found some great books. Which is an experience that the Kindle has kinda ruined for me. I don't go into stores as often, and when I do, sometimes I figure I'll just download the book onto my Kindle and read it there. Though I still buy more than my fair share of dead-tree books. If you've seen my shelves, you know this. I browse. I buy.

And if you have an ereader, you know how painful browsing the online stores is if you do it from your device. I try not to do that. Slow. Cumbersome. Tougher to navigate than a family funeral when you're three drinks in and thought the deceased was a bit of an asshole.

Online, though. That's crazy.

Here's how ebook shopping is killing my browsing in stores.

I had an agenda set up for bookstore shopping--@bookstore. A little list, via GTD. So when someone would say something cool about a book, I'd make a note in that list. Then when I was in a bookstore, I'd go to that list and look at the book. Then I'd buy the book and add it to the pile I'd never get to.

I love the walking through bookstores. I love the picking up of books. The moving around the aisles. Talking to bookstore people who are organized and knowledgeable. Taking a few books to a comfy chair and deciding which one to buy with my birthday money.

I'd thought many folks like this. Maybe they don't. Maybe they like the browsing, but not the buying. Maybe that's why The Mystery Bookstore is shutting down.

Online browsing is much different. Someone says "check out Tom Franklin" and I hit the Googles, the Amazons, the IndieBound. I ask on Twitter. I keep an eye open on the blogs I follow. I email. I ask around. I read some reviews. I read the author's wikipedia page. Sometimes I hit the author's own web site or twitter feed. Sometimes to disastrous results.

Then I can add the author to my book list or click an online bookstore if I want a physical book. Or just download the mofo right to my Kindle and start reading.

My lovely bride says she'd prefer to shop in the bookstore because she likes to thumb through the book, read the first pages, see what she thinks.

I like the idea of downloading the first chapter and reading that to decide whether I want to read the rest of the book. I want to browse around the internet and see if the author seems like a nice person. Because I don't care how good the book is. What I want to do is pretend that the author and I could play cribbage together and be good friends. I kid, but one of the big reasons people buy books is because they think the author is a nice person. Check out this study (pdf) from the Sisters In Crime people.

Another goofy piece from that study is what people who responded said would get to buy more books. Better novels? Would two Dennis Lehane books this year do it? Would more collections of short stories? A novella bouncing off of a novel? What would be the top reason folks would buy more books? I know, more time in the week. If you got an extra day in the weekend, you'd read more, right? Er, no. Not better books. Not more books. Not more better books. Not more time. The number one thing that would make people buy more books. Lower prices!! You know, like socks.

What would make me buy more books is this -- the ability to find more books that I like. How can I do that? I can do that in your poorly organized store if I have time. I can do that on the internet if I have time. I can do that by word-of-mouth if you're helpful.

Years ago, I'd wander around a bookstore browsing books, reading blurbs and first pages. Now I wander around the internet, reading reviews and first chapters before deciding whether to order or download the book.

So I came home this weekend with three book I hadn't read. I'll start one soon, though. In a bit. I just downloaded the NYT Book Review to my Kindle. Wonder what looks good today.


Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Wandering around a bookstore with no plan is one of my favorite things. Just meander through stacks of books and grab at things that look good. A book about The Outer Limits? Cool. Oh look, a book on baking while camping. Old Paperbacks!

and the smell, oh I love the smell.
Books rock.

Naomi Johnson said...

Thanks to the 'Net, I sometimes think I spend more time browsing and buying than actually reading books.

Lagomorph Rex said...

We actually don't have too many used book stores in my general vicinity. We used to have quite a lot.. but lately they've been shutting. One of them just did not more than a few weeks ago and it turned another down the road into the "Oh god we are buried under paperbacks" cause they bought all of her stock..

But I love going in and browsing.. you really never know what you will find.. I leave the "i need such and such author's 3rd book in this series" stuff to Amazon marketplace.. Its much less frustrating..

Steve Weddle said...

Jon -- Yes. One of the few times that 'no plan' works for me.

Naomi -- Agreed. On the net, though, I can start looking for a book and end up watching a seventeen minute Keith Moon drum solo.

LR -- Be careful with those stacks.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Love browsing around bookstores too. I don't know if it has to do with my love of books or my love of browsing, or both.

And I totally agree with you--lower prices = me buying more books, or more e-books if I ever in invest in one of those kindle things.

David Cranmer said...

I love browsing but don't do it as often as I did say ten years ago. I remember being at Indie bookstores and Borders twice a week around the turn of the century. Now maybe once a month at best. I do order just as many print novels on-line and off Kindle.