We, the Cultists
Just over a week ago, my sister got a library card after going without one for over a decade.
We went to the central branch of the LA Public Library. She was writing a paper at the time, and needed a particular play, and it was only available at the central branch. So off to downtown we went.
Do any of you know what parking in LA is like? It’s horrible. We spent twenty minutes going around in circles trying to find the entrance to the parking lot. By the time we got there, my sister was miffed. This, of course, is a euphemism.
She was really really angry.
So we went into the library, and up the escalator to where she knew she might find the play she needed (Chicago), and we spent a few minutes looking, and then she found it.
We could have left, right? Instead, we browsed through the plays in the stacks. She left with three extra plays, and a Lillian Hellman-Dashiell Hammett biography for me. And by the time we got back in the car, she was like, “Let’s get coffee!”
We ended up getting onion rings at Burger King instead, then parked under a street lamp in the parking lot and sat there for a while, just reading, passing a big cup of Diet Coke back and forth. It was awesome.
Would we have had the same experience if she’d gotten her play on Amazon? Hell to the no. It never would have happened. We never would have walked through the stacks and browsed around; and she never would have been half as jazzed as she was when the clerk handed her her library card. She was like, “I have a library card!” It was totally adorable.
Again, none of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for the library. So when people write articles like THIS ONE, where the author states that we should cease to buy books at bookstores and instead rely on The Great and Powerful Amazon for books, it makes me angry. It makes me think that the author actually wants people to miss out on the experience of looking for books. It makes me think that he doesn’t want to pay list price for a book that will give money to (usually, unless it’s Snooki or the Kardashians) a deserving writer.
Whenever I’m in New York, I always make a point to go to The Strand. When I’m in San Francisco, I go to City Lights. Want to know why? Those places have character. The recommendations (gasp!) make sense, as opposed to Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought” thing, which keeps telling me I must want to read Dollhouse, and Modelland. You get to purchase your books at cash registers, run by actual human beings (more jobs, yay!), ones who always like to talk to you about books while they ring up your purchases. And then there’s the very experience of browsing through the shelves, and finding something you end up really liking, even if it isn’t the book you came to purchase in the first place. When you’re on Amazon, that doesn’t exist. It’s all in the clicking. Why would you want to click when you can browse real shelves and maybe even talk to real people?
Who knows? Maybe the author of the article is a misanthrope; disgusted at the idea of talking to anyone but his wife, the “unreformed local-bookstore cultist.” But if preferring to go to the library or shop at The Strand or interact with other human beings who like books makes me a cultist, then so be it.
There’s a lot I could add–how Amazon likes to do really shady things, like avoiding taxes in California, and censoring gay books (true story–happened in 2009); how Slate, the site where this article was posted, is AN AFFILIATE OF AMAZON and gets a profit every time someone buys something on Amazon through a link they clicked on Slate–but really, I just want to say: if you don’t like something, then LEAVE IT ALONE AND DON’T USE IT. It’s not that difficult. The author didn’t need to go off on a crazy tirade about the horrors of bookstores–how “they’re difficult to use,” and using Amazon is better because it means shopping “without leaving your couch.” It’s Christmas. Who needs that negativity? If people are happy going to a library or a bookstore, what’s the problem? There’s no need to write about things you don’t understand (as it’s very clear this guy has no freaking clue about bookstores and how they work). And there’s no need to belittle things you don’t like or can’t understand other people liking. “How could you possibly like going to the bookstore, when you could be spending your time clicking away on Amazon, reading reviews with little to no punctuation marks of any kind? Yuck. What’s up with YOU?”
It just reminds me of the whole Wall Street Journal/YA Saves thing. Call me cynical, but I really feel like journalism is deteriorating, particularly as it pertains to writing about books. I feel like a lot of writers just write stupid stuff under the blanket excuse of “starting a discussion,” but really in order to get a reaction out of people. Which, to me, is a total Dick Move: when your writing does nothing but make people angry for no (particularly important or relevant) reason, then why are you even a writer in the first place? Reactions are good, sure, but not when all you want to do is piss people off with an opinion as silly as calling bookstores “cultish, moldering institutions.” Did the author honestly think people were going to agree with him? Even people who own e-readers don’t say things like that (and not everyone owns an e-reader, and not everyone wants to buy their real paper books online).
And now I’m going to go have some coffee and read a book and stop talking about this.
P.S: the author throws a fit over paying list price for books, but at The Strand, you can find most paperbacks for $7 or less. So, BAM.