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Arts and Culture

Why I Won’t Be Devastated If My Neighborhood Bookshop Goes Out of Business

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Posted on Apr 8, 2013
Paul Stumpr (CC-BY-SA)

The cover of Agatha Christie’s fifth book and first mega-hit, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.”

By Peter Z. Scheer

I just spontaneously walked into an independent bookstore—the kind that is supposed to be going extinct—to spontaneously buy my boyfriend an Agatha Christie. He watches a suspicious amount of “Law and Order” and he revealed to me that although he loves mysteries, he has never read one by the greatest mystery writer of all time.

That simply would not stand, and so I marched into a quaint little shop just around the corner from our apartment. It’s been a while since I bought a proper paper book and I had some reservations. What proud Amazonian tree had to go extinct to provide the pulp for these pages? But this was an impulsive mission, and although an e-book takes seconds to download, physical objects tend to pay off better as gifts. To hell with the Amazon, and Amazon.com, I was going to do this the old-fashioned way, the good and noble and support-your-mom-and-pop way.

So into this shop I marched and, pivoting to the counter, I asked where I might find the work of Dame Agatha.

“Hold on,” the clerk said. “I think we have one or two of those.”

One or two? I wasn’t asking for Kant’s “Metaphysics of Morals.” This is a woman who has competed with the Bible for all-time sales. She has, according to Guinness, sold some 4 billion books, so you’d think this shop might have more than one or two of them. She only wrote 66 crime novels, six romances and 15 short story collections.

“Yes,” said the clerk. “We have one or two.”

I stifled a sigh as he led me to the mystery aisle.

I gazed in shock at the void between Chandler, Raymond and Connelly, Michael where Christie, Agatha should have been. Out of 4 billion, I had been promised “one or two.” And then there were none.

Upon my return, the boyfriend asked for his gift.

“They didn’t have any of her books,” I said, a rage boiling. “Apparently they hate women.”

“That’s OK,” he said. “I’ll just download it on my iPad.”

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer. Follow him on Twitter: @peesch.

Update: I want to share this comment from a friend who worked at a local bookstore that has since gone out of business. She says, “in the horror show of current bookstores, limited shelf space, limited money for book stock, readers who prefer the five sanctioned current authors, dwindling customers, rising rents (do you have any idea how many paperbacks you have to sell to equal the profit margin on, say, a pair of jeans) it’s understandable that they didn’t have any.” Her store did carry Agatha Christie—but then again it went out of business.

Update 2: I still feel pretty strongly about this, but I also believe in admitting mistakes and there are some things I want to say in response to the comments. First, there is a lot of criticism down there, and a lot of it is fair. This was not a well-researched article; it was a flippant blog post that was meant to provoke some discussion about sacred cows and instead came off to many as a whiny rant. I basically like independent bookstores, but I think progressives have a reactionary tendency to defend all things we know and like without thinking about progress. For years, great minds at newspapers debated what to do about the coming apocalypse without bothering to, you know, try it online. Let’s stop trying to force people to shop at stores, some of which are good and some of which are not, and think about the new kinds of public spaces we can create to share literature and information and ideas. That’s the post I should have written. Instead, I was whiny, and petulant, and all of the mean things people wrote below. I really don’t want anyone who makes his or her living from the written word to lose his or her job—ever. I’m sorry if I was insensitive to small-business owners who have to struggle in ways I do not envy. Sometimes, when we try to be provocative, we come off a bit snide, and a bit shit. So, sorry for that.

It’s important to know that I haven’t deleted a single comment and I’ve asked the moderators to go easy, as I feel ultimately responsible for the tenor of this debate. Some comments have been deleted, I am told, because they violated our comments policy. I recall one that said something rude about my sexual orientation that has happily vanished. But look, I kicked the hornet’s nest, so sting away.

For those who suggest nepotism is to blame for this post, you’re mostly wrong. I do work for my dad, an often-gratifying and often irksome position in which some people throughout human history have found themselves, and he has encouraged me throughout my time at Truthdig to write more. So has Zuade Kaufman, my publisher with whom I am in no way related. I also work with a talented staff of non-Scheers who routinely tell me what they think, whether I ask for it or not (one editor called this a Yelp review, which was a pretty good burn). I started at Truthdig in the mailroom, went on to edit and post Jon Stewart videos, then started part-time night blogging. Over the years I’ve moved up to managing editor. My dad didn’t like the argument of this post, but he thought it was funny. Maybe that’s because he’s my dad. I don’t know. For the most part, he keeps me on my toes and he keeps me honest. So if my being his son has any impact on my writing it’s this: Contrary to what one commenter said, I try harder. Sometimes more than others.


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