Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bah! Humbug! But please, buy books...

Sheesh. Has it really been four months since I last blogged?

You'd think I had a life or something!

Anyway, a end-of-year blog/post from Linda Richards, mystery writer, editor and cyberpal, finally prodded me out of my online stupor. And I probably needed it. Somehow life has grabbed hold of me and whisked me away from several projects I really should be focussing on. Like, my own Thrilling Detective site's fall issue now will be lucky to make it online by January.

Anyway, back to Linda. It's a typical year-end message, plugging January Magazine's best-of for 2009, and I've even got a few pieces in it somewhere. So far so good. Then she goes on to urge people to buy folks books for the holidays, a suggestion of which I heartily approve

But then she unleases this little sucker:
"Indie booksellers are passionate, interested and -- most of the time -- big readers. Ask for help: you'll be pleased and amazed at the warm response you get."

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for supporting your local bookstore. And I LOVE indie bookstores.

But I love ALL bookstores. It's just too easy to propagate this myth that only indie booksellers care about books. Most people who choose to work in bookstores care about books. They're certainly not in it for the money. I have the pay stubs to prove that.

I work in a bookstore, part of one of those allegedly big evil chain stores everyone is apparently supposed to despise, but I care just as passionately about books as anyone working in one of those sainted little shops everyone romanticizes about. Sorry, but life is not a Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie.

I'm a real-life bookseller. If you cut me, do I not bleed? And if one dares to enter our store I recommend, I hand sell, I bend over backwards to find the right book for the right person. I'm actually sorta good at it. I'm nice to people. I don't even bite them anymore.

And, as I said, I'm certainly not in it for the money -- in fact, I have a sneaking suspicion Otto Penzler, another big basher of big stores (check out his scenery-chewing off-topic rant/intro to his great new book The Line-Up), might pay me better than my corporate overlords do if I worked for him.

But I despise the on-going mindset that implies that anyone who works for Barnes & Noble or Chapters or W.H. Smith or whatever is somehow morally or intellectually inferior. It's that sort of on-going and pervasive contempt in certain quarters that no doubt contributes to the rudeness and nastiness regularly bestowed upon my fellow workers and me by select members of the general public. Especially at this "time of good cheer."

I've worked indies, and I've worked for big chains. And believe me, indie workers get treated far better. No customer in a small ma-and-pa store -- be it books or coffee or whatever -- would ever so easily toss around the abuse that workers for large chains are subjected to every day.

It's the same sort of troublesome mindset, a sort of faux-elistist, anti-corporate populism, that allows some "average" citizens to think they can easily insult some hapless Macdonalds or Wal-Mart workers to their face and say the sort of nasty, foul things that they would never think of saying to anyone else. Sorry, folks, but just because someone works for a big company does not mean they're automatically worthy of your contempt and abuse. Or somehow less human.

But I digress.

What do you do when your local bookstore is part of a big chain? Do we support our neighbours and friends who are employed there by shopping locally or do we travel fifty miles to a small indie with bad service, poor selection and cat hair on everything? (Perhaps even Linda realizes this dilemma -- she suggests checking out things on Amazon -- not exactly a beloved small local indie itself -- BEFORE heading down to your local).

Oh, and here's another myth. Our local store did NOT arrive by forcing other stores out of business by nefarious means. There wasn't a single fire bombing or drive-by shooting. Those few supposedly wonderful little stores -- if they ever existed -- were long gone even before B&N was invited to set up shop in our sleepy little bedroom town. Yeah, they were invited by the city because there were NO decent bookstores in the area.

So, by all means, buy books this year. I'll even suggest you buy them from a real actual bookstore. From someone who cares about books. But wherever you buy them, be nice to the person trying to help you.

'tis the season, after all.