Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle with You

Oh, geez. Here I go.

I don’t love being in the middle of anything.

But I tend to get myself there somehow anyway.

I grew up there, after all. The middle of three girls. Middle kid, middle class.

Teetering on the middle of the fence is where I often find myself, arms out, balancing my own feelings and thoughts and ideas along with those of others.

Well, I feel myself tipping to one side. I don’t know if I’m falling, jumping, or being pushed.

But, I’m guessing it’s time to get off the fence. And a recent post by author/illustrator Peter Brown triggered this early-morning contemplation. (My husband: Why exactly are you up at the crack of dawn? He usually owns this hour, not me.) If you haven’t read Peter’s post, you should go read it now. Just click the link above.

Go on. I’ll wait.

Back already? Did you read the comments and Peter’s careful responses to each one? No?

Well, that’s where the good stuff is, you know. Go back. I’ll wait again.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

If you haven’t caught wind of the recent dispute between two corporate book-world giants, Amazon and Hachette, you’ve probably been biking, swimming, hiking, reading to your kids, climbing trees, baking pastries, or building something. You know, living  your life.

That would be me. The things in life that are bigger than me just happen. Electricity happens. My car moves when I need it to. Planes take off and land. Booksellers sell my books. All these things happen without me having to devote too much thought, time or energy to them.

But lately, my vehicle has been in the shop for repairs three times!

bookstore-canalsideAnd booksellers are dropping like flies all around me. (Well, not actually the booksellers themselves, thank heaven. They are alive and well and doing something other than selling books. It’s their businesses, their stores, that are disappearing.)

Canalside Bookstore, along the Miami-Erie Canal, with cats Agatha and Maya and bookseller Cheri Lyn was crowded and quaint and smelled like old books and new books. I remember I met the most enthusiastic kiddo there who asked me to sign a book he’d made about race cars.

It closed a year later.  

bookstore-stately-raven-web-sm1-224x300Stately Raven, perhaps the most architecturally fascinating bookstore, in old church with Mike and his crew was located in a college town up north. I remember the night before I signed there, they had hosted a late-night Twilight movie party and hundreds of Twilight fans had shown up in costume.

It’s gone now, too.

bookstore-beehive-mural-web-sm bookstore-beehive-inside-web-small1Beehive Books, in another college town, had a mosaic mural, Linda, and a coffee bar (because Barnes and Noble wasn’t the first to discover that books and coffee were meant to be married). It was standing room only when I read from The Beef Princess of Practical County.

Yep, you guessed. Gone as of last January.

I wrote a blog post about this a couple of years ago. When my first book was published, a local bookseller handled all of my school and library events. Now five years and four books later, I’m on my third bookseller and each one is located further from my home.

Granted, I live in a rural area. Rural, but not remote. A person can find just about any other specialty shop within a 30-mile radius. There’s a bike shop uptown. Coffee shops on every corner. Jewelers, boutiques, repurposed furniture. Four auto parts stores, for goodness sake! Four!

But no bookstores. So, Amazon is popular here. Why drive one hour to a city with a brick and mortar bookstore, where they likely won’t have the book you want in stock, have them order it and ship it – free, if you want to drive back to the store in two days to pick up, but with shipping charges if you want it sent to your home – when you can use 1-click in your pajamas while you drink your tea and the birds chirp outside your patio door? Folks just don’t see it, and I understand why.

bookstore-mag-web-small1But Peter Brown suggests that consumers are forced to choose between what he so aptly refers to as “book culture” and convenience. Book culture is real.  It was Cherie Lyn, Mike, and Linda and their staffs. It was cats and coffee bars and murals and musty used books. It was my Maggie, curled up in a chair in a retail establishment, shoes kicked off, reading, oblivious to anyone or anything around her.

Is that book culture already gone? For me, I think it is. I no longer face a decision between supporting a local, independent bookseller or a corporate giant. My day-to-day choice is between two corporate giants. One online and one an hour from my home.

Perhaps in some areas, libraries are the only places left to carry the book culture torch. Some schools do it well, too. But fewer and fewer bookstores remain where story hours attract dozens of children eager to hear a book read aloud and a bookseller hands a great find to a customer whose tastes he knows well.

I’ve met some wonderful booksellers at big city chain bookstores. (After all, a bookish sort is going to find a job somewhere when their local bookseller closes, so why not a bigger bookstore?) But the hour-long drive to the closest big city chain bookstore that looks and smells like every other big city chain bookstore isn’t always the best use of my time. And that darn 1-click is just so easy. And cheap. But as, Peter’s post points out, that’s because of the soap and batteries.

You didn’t read it, did you?

Go on. Here it is again. I’ll wait. Again.

See? Now you know what I mean about soap and batteries.

Are there other options? Yes, I believe there are. Independent booksellers can be quaint, but they are far from archaic. They do know what computers are. I can order from one of the many fantastic booksellers not in my town. It’s no different than ordering from that big chain bookseller not in my town. And, there are other online booksellers besides Amazon. And, publishers sell directly from their websites.

What will it cost me? Likely a few dollars plus shipping. Maybe a day or two wait time for delivery. Is it worth giving up some convenience to stand against a large corporation who thinks it is fair to hold books hostage?

You still aren’t sure what I’m talking about? You didn’t read it, did you?

Oh, for crying out loud. Go read Peter’s post. Here it is. Again.

This time, though, I’m not waiting. I’m going to wrap this thing up and go make more coffee.

So, my question to you is: Is your book-buying a battle between culture and convenience? How far do you have to drive to get to a brick and mortar bookstore, independent or chain?

I’d love to hear your comments, but unlike the undaunted Peter Brown, I’m skipping town to avoid having to respond to comments (okay, not really, but I am leaving on a writer’s retreat, where I will be RETREATING and will not be able to allow this debate to continue to wake me early in the  morning. Unfortunately, the sun will do that at 4:51 AM because days begin ridiculously early in Maine in June. )

Two notes in the interest of full disclosure: My publishers (two big players in the publishing world and two smaller presses) are not part of the Hachette group. And, I did place a 1-click,  Amazon Prime order just three days ago. I will give it more thought next time, though.

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1 comment on “Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle with You”

  1. Amy G Coombs

    Good post, Michelle. Fun & sad at the same time. So, here’s what I try to do: research books on the Amazon site, then special order them at the local bookstore. Also, when I’m in Columbus 90 miles away, I go to B&N, write down titles, and special order them locally. It takes a little extra effort, but it’s worth it. On the other hand, it can backfire. I bought a Borders Nook in an effort to boost their sales. They folded anyway, and I never read electronically.

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