Sunday, October 12, 2014

100 WORDS OR LESS

". . . Luddite or futurist, a thing beckons or not."  


A few years ago a  journal, which also operated a small press, advertised for story submissions.  As an addition to the story, they asked for a 100-word essay on saving small book stores.

I had a story to submit and a lot to say about the saving of small book stores, but I was fairly certain I couldn’t keep it to 100 words.  That would push my story out of the slush pile and straight into the trash,  You gotta follow the rules.  I think my attitude toward the saving of small book stores had something to do with the fact that my grandfather was a blacksmith.  I don't get the connection either, but it's probably there somewhere alongside Gutenberg.

With two major providers of books in a contentious battle, net neutrality in dire straits, five $COTU$ justices with their heads in dubious places about the state of voter accessibility, small town police with military tanks for crowd control,  and a couple of wars going on, I took out my 2010 small essay on the plight of small book stores.

I’m not sure whether it’s laziness or the feeling that the beat goes on that makes me not want to revise the essay.  I am going to remove the names of the journal and the small press and the names of the books they published that year.  I feel like Dr Seuss calling them Book1 and Book2, etc., but I think you’ll see why I’m disguising them.  By the way, my story was not accepted for publication, but that could have been because it was a bad story.

Here’s my essay to the nameless journal, exactly as I sent it, except for the comments and changes in red.


Bookstores
                                                      
Buying a book in a small bookstore is an over-rated experience.  Meg Ryan got our sympathy in "You've Got Mail," but when people say such things as "I always do this." they mean to say, if truthful, "Well, once or twice I did this," especially if the memory of this is a good one or a should one. 

No one would say, "I never bought a book in a small bookstore," even if true and even if every book he or she reads is off a rack in a super-store, or the library, or borrowed from friends, or bought online, or worse our person doesn't read books at all?  I'm a doubter. 

       * 100 words end here *
           
I bought books wherever I could find them, but because books are heavy and I like to read in bed, I purchased paperbacks and sometimes had to wait for them to follow the hardbacks.  Then I cut my books into sections.  Oh, don't have a hissy fit because I mutilated a book.  Do you know what happens to the remainders, the ones that don't sell?  I kept my books together with rubber bands and sold them all at our yearly garage sale for 10 cents each. Nobody asked me why.      

When I saw the first Kindle advertised by Amazon, I couldn't wait to buy one, even though I knew that if I waited they would come down in price.  I usually read more than one book at a time, and with my Kindle, all that reading together weighs only ounces.  Travel anyone?  BTW still on my first battery, 2 yrs, 2 mos.

I hope authors get a decent cut from e-books, but I don't think they have recently received a fair cut from the large publishers anyway, publishers who have abandoned their publicist responsibilities to the authors themselves and forced new/new authors--granted with a range of talent--to self-publishing, all so the big guys could push guaranteed sales of known authors' books.  See at your neighborhood Kroger.

Choices?  In The Nation, Colin Robinson HERE in "How Amazon Kills Books and Makes Us Stupid" calls Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, by a number of names, but I noticed that he extols publishers who haven't done much changing in the direction of authors for years.  I know there are some good houses, but even they want it both ways.  I just read the AP fall book list.  Same old names.  It's all about money.  So much for the publishers' lofty goal of facilitating readers' choices that Robinson attempts to prove with esoteric data and rather mean-spirited, self-promoting statements by selected, unnamed publishing executives. 

 That may be  the small presses' growing usefulness--a few outstanding books and/or new authors each cycle. That's choice.  From your small press this year Book1, Book2, Book3, Book4, and Book5--all on Amazon, two on Kindle so far, two on Amazon pre-order.  Am I preaching to the choir?

Robinson totally ignores the benefits of e-books.  My latest book purchase, The Clan of the Cave Bear, (not on Kindle) [now on Kindle] found me punching its side for a quick definition, only to remember that the luxury of instant definitions is only on my Kindle, that an instant buy of a referenced book--recently Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which I bought ($4.79 no postage) and read on my Kindle before continuing the book where it was referenced.  Those are only two benefits.

I know, book stores smell good, and turning real pages feels good, and there's that tinkle of the little bell that rings every time someone opens the door, but it's time to admit the fact that, despite the retro craze, very few people patronize small book stores, shoe-repair parlors, or LP record stores.

Our one small book store closed years ago.  We now have Borders [gone,] Barnes and Noble, and a couple of second hand paper-back stores, one really good one in Watkinsville called Books Galore.  Then there are Kroger, Publix, Walmart, K-mart [gone,] Target and convenience stores, etc.--probably the same assortment of book vendors found in most American cities. 


I'm a 78-year-old woman [82]  and when I encounter Luddites --  even smart ones -- I just don't understand   I don't care if nobody reads past the 100 words.  This was a rant looking for an outlet.  I wonder if Johannes Gutenberg had detractors.

                               The End  
(of my 100 word essay on Saving Small Book Stores)
September 17, 2010

                             ~~~~~~~~~

Since the transformation of travel from the horse to the automobile took a long time to happen, I doubt if my grandfather worried about his blacksmith shop having a lack of business, and he may not have considered the possibility of his profession undergoing drastic change.  What?  Were they going to shoot all the horses? 

Small bookstores have usually been places you find, discover, run across; where the books are in random piles and the proprietor may or may not know if he has what you are looking for.  They don't advertise.  I found my set of Dickens in one of those places in North Carolina for $75 about 30 years ago.  It was in the attic with about ten other sets. We had to organize our set  of books because Dickens' books from multiple sets were all over the attic, yes, just the attic you visualize, in an old building -- dusty, dirty -- and it took some time to make sure we had a whole set.  I have to admit that was fun.  Not sure if Wayne would agree, but he always digs in to help .
    
If I owned a small book store, I would make some changes to compete with the large chains and the e-books, because most of the small book stores are dreary places--flea markets for books -- without the grass and sunshine --some with pulp fiction, comic books, newspapers and magazines in the front -- or the back.
  
I might spruce up the place, put in some tables and chairs, serve coffee and tea and some cinnamon rolls (or have Krispy Kreme make a stop every day)  and charge just what it cost me -- I'd be selling books, not  coffee or pastries. Book clubs, local author book signings, hire a couple of teenagers, have a story time for kids, and recognition in some way that e-books exist, such as allowing customers to use a computer to order books I don't have in stock.  (They might find that buying a book on line is a lot more expensive than waiting for my used paperback version -- and here are all these other books. . . .)  --  and advertise -- all things to make the bookstore come alive.  Books Galore has done many of these and another most important one -- books are alphabetized within genre. 
  
  Who's holding up replacing back-breaking book  bags with e-book readers and  digital text books for kids? Publishers?  Retailers?  Bookstores?  Truckers? the Post Office?  All of the above?   This is multiple choice.  I don't know the answer, but I know there has been some progress. 

Since I wrote this piece, I've read a lot about the use of digital books in schools, and four years later the process still seems to be in flux, with each publisher and each book seller, and probably each teacher,  having their own ideas (some really good ones) about how to best supply books, e-books, and e-readers to schools. I've run across convoluted ways some schools are using not only e-books but the internet itself.  It's a big change, so I'm not being critical. All changes seem to be messy at first -- have to eliminate the chaff.  Maybe it will take new generations to fully use the wonderful tools technology continues to deliver, but the time will come when digital books provide a large share of texts at every level.  Or could we be talking some form of telepathic reception by then?  That does not exclude book publishers from changing their focus to seeking authors, publishing, and working closely with educators to provide the best possible references for use in school libraries and classrooms at every level and in every subject.

There's a great blog called The Hedgehog ReviewCritical Reflections on Contemporary Culture.  It is sponsored by the University of Virginia Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  In the Summer 2014 issue there's a great essay called 'The Mind at Work: Ten Years After," by Mike Rose HERE. (Be sure you take few minutes to read this very short and thought-provoking essay.) A social scientist, he gives us his current thoughts about a book he wrote ten years earlier called The Mind at Work. 

" . . . examining the sometimes hidden intelligence of the kind of work my forbears did with the analytic tools of social science. Some of the forbears were immigrants, bringing their skills with them repeating a pattern that is as old as the republic.

". . .  There are about two million waitresses and waiters in the United States.  Through a combination of physical and social skill and the ability to think on their feet, they support families and put kids through school, or pay for their own school, or help aging parents.  They make restaurants function at the point of service.  They contribute to the social fabric of the neighborhoods where they work."

What will our forbears bring to the next ten years?   I'd like to add all of the essay here.  It is the telling of the passing of the torch from one generation to another, paying homage to the abilities of those who came before, those who allow us to reap the benefits of what we have now.   Will our children remember those who came before?

 ". . . Luddite or futurist, a thing beckons or not." 

My friend reminded me this morning about the majesty of old libraries, the hush when we entered, the card catalog, the kids' section, and the whispering and shushing.  Where else could you get all that in a beautiful building?  I remembered Milner Library with it's marble steps and large marble foyer at ISNU (now ISU.)  She reminded me about the Library of Congress.  I've never been there.