Missing: the Book in Bookstore

My love of bookstores has been frequently cited in this old blog of mine. I love nothing better than hanging out for a while, discovering new books, new authors, and re-visiting old favorites, maybe flipping through a magazine or two. If there was a way to accurately add up all the time I have spent in bookstores over my lifetime, I’m sure I would be shocked at the total.

Or maybe not.

On any given day, if I have a choice, I opt for an independent book seller. One of my favorites is The Strand in Manhattan. I could spend hours there.  And have. My friend’s newish bookstore in Spring Green, Wisconsin is another favorite. Some day, if I ever get to Portland OR, I imagine I will immediately go to Powell’s.

But in my neck of the woods, save for a couple of teeny-tiny independent book shops, the only sizable store is Barnes & Noble.  There is a modestly sized B & N near Target. There are a couple of bigger stores across the river. The one I usually head to is the modest-sized one because I usually combine errands to save gas.

On Sunday morning, I drove southward to hit Lowe’s, Target and Barnes & Noble. There were several new books I wanted to explore. (I’m on the most frugal of budgets so I rarely buy unless I know the book is worth the expense.) And it really struck me as I wandered through the store just how much it has changed. As you enter the store, there is the usual humongous display of Nooks. To the right, there is the CD/DVD section. And the magazine section. In the back is the café. On the far left are the calendars and notebooks and candles and whatever. Just beyond that is the children’s section. And next to that are games, gifts, educational toys for children and a whole bunch of stuff that I wouldn’t categorize as a book and that have been added fairly recently. This section takes up a huge amount of retail space. And sandwiched in between all of that? Books.

Every time I go in there, I am increasingly astonished at how few actual books there are. I wanted to look for some books on writing – that section is gone. The decor section is appallingly sparse. Plays, classics? Less and less. Many, many books that should be a part of the standard inventory are missing. The space allotted for books keeps shrinking.

I’m sorry? I thought Barnes & Noble was a bookstore.

I’m aware of the struggle bookstores, even huge chains, have in their fight against the Amazon juggernaut. I can only imagine these ‘additions’ are due to some marketing research that says “Books aren’t enough! You have to give them more or they won’t come around!” Every business is fighting to stay relevant and in the black.

But, come on.

When I go to a bookstore, I’d actually like to look at books. Yes, the café is nice, the little gifts are nice, being able to buy a CD is nice, but I am there for the books. Isn’t that what a bookstore is for? Books? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left that store in frustration because I couldn’t find a book I wanted. Or two. Or three. It makes me mad.

In a perfect world, I would be able to hop on the subway and go to The Strand anytime I want to. But, since Manhattan is  about an hour and a half away from my home, that is not going to happen. And Amazon? Fine for ordering a book I absolutely know I want. However, most of the time I don’t know that absolutely, so I want  to pick the book up, leaf through it, see what is between the covers. I don’t have the funds to simply order a bunch of books online. And besides, isn’t it much more satisfying to actually see the book in person?

Sigh. I’m sure someone at Barnes & Noble could logically explain their marketing strategy. And I would nod in understanding.

But then I would respond, “Yes, but where are the books?”

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New in the Etsy shop:

Happy Tuesday.

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Comments

  1. Judy Clark says

    Claudia,

    I know what you mean. The stores have all gotten to where they have so much variety other than what the name implies. I went to the fabric store and the fabric is probably one- fifth of the store. If I wanted all that other stuff, I’d go somewhere else.

    Beautiful scarf!!

    Judy

  2. says

    You are so right, and so is the above comment about fabric stores! I guess everything changes; things evolve whether some of us like it or not. I shop at Amazon and have noticed a lot of their books are “Kindle” which I have no interest in. Makes you wonder about (or fear?) the next twenty years, doesn’t it? I’ll be the only old lady on the block with actual books in her house!!

  3. Kris says

    I could spend hours in a bookstore too! We have a nice B&N here that I like to go to.
    Loved your post on Riley’s dish!!!
    xo Kris

  4. says

    I go to our local book exchange but I do order a lot on Amazon. I usually get them for a penny with $3.99 shipping so it’s still a good deal at around $4 a book. The ones at the book exchange are about $2 or less. I’m never, ever without books to read. I have a few Robert Ludlum books you might like also. Give me the word and I’ll send them out, sugar.

    Oh, and I wish B&N had more chairs in there to sit and read a bit. Where did all the chairs go?
    xoxo,
    Connie

  5. Sharron Akins says

    Hi Claudia,
    I love books but I have to confess I also love my kindle. Living in a small place (500 sq. ft.) I need room and really do not have more room for books. I love going to book stores and browsing. I am fortunate that I live in Portland Oregon and can visit Powell’s often. Lots of chairs and cozy places to sit and read. I do hope you will visit someday.
    I also love your blog and it is the first thing I read each morning. I miss Riley and love your special garden in his memory.
    Keep writing and sharing your life.
    Sharron

  6. says

    I find that most bookstores are just ‘entertainment’ venues with a few books thrown in. I guess it’s why I still love libraries….tall shelves of books everywhere! I’ve not yet gone over the electronic reader but I fear one of these days it will be the only way to read a book!

    hugs, Linda

  7. says

    As I read this I was thinking the same thing about fabric stores. The amount of fabric is dwindling and the quality as well. I shop the independent stores as much as possible.

  8. Donnamae says

    I so agree with you. I miss Borders…they always had lots of books. I would occasionally go astray as to the budget…but, it’s BOOKS!!! Haven’t been to Barnes and Noble lately…sounds like I’m not missing anything! What’s the name of the bookstore in Spring Green…might like to visit! ;)

    • Claudia says

      It’s called Arcadia Books – my friend, James, owns it and he is a book lover. It’s really lovely.

  9. says

    Hi, Claudia…my thoughts exactly! I went to my local B&N on Sunday to purchase a copy of Jane Eyre. I realized with disbelief on Saturday that I didn’t own a copy, only a ‘condensed’ version from my childhood, so off I went to B&N, where I was hit with rows and rows and rows of…toys. Last week I went to the library (I like to find new books/authors by browsing the bookshelves, pulling titles that catch my eye off the shelf), and lo and behold….no bookshelves!! Lots and lots of computers and magazines, a remodeled/expanded CD section, and books have been relegated to the basement storage area. You now use the computer to find a specific title, and then put in a request at the help desk. Where’s the fun and adventure in that? I think I’ll take a trip down to Spring Green… :-)

  10. Chris k in Wisconsin says

    I am betting that you are referring to Arcadia Book Store in Spring Green? I believe the person who opened it is “affiliated” with APT theater there ?? How funny! We live about 20 miles from Sp Green!! Have been to APT several times over the years. It truly is a small, small world.
    And e-readers. I don’t get it. My SIL bought me a Kindle Fire for Christmas last year. Likely because I said I would never use one because of my love of “real” books. I have read perhaps 5 books on it since then. I like coming into the room where my book is sitting…. seeing my bookmark within the book…. and knowing how far I can get if I sit down to read. With my kindle, it tells me what % I have read so far. ???? I miss the smell of the pages and the feel of the book itself and the pages within. It is too techie for me. Just don’t feel the love I feel when I sit down to read a book. I was going through some (real) old boxes recently and came across some books I owned when I was a little girl. I opened them and saw little pockets glued inside and cards inside. I remember setting up my own little library when I was about 8 and we lived out in the country. I went to the library quite often, but some other little kids out there did not, and I wanted so much to share my love of my books: Little Women, Clara Barton, Girl Nurse, The Bobbsey Twins, The Boxcar Children, A Book of Favorite Poems. There seriously is NOTHING like a wonderful book in your hands. And, again, it seriously is also a small world!!

    • Claudia says

      Yes, Arcadia is owned by my friend James Bohnen. I’ve known him for years and he directs each summer at APT. I worked as a vocal coach in 2011 at APT on a production of Blithe Spirit. That’s when James was getting ready to open his gorgeous bookstore. I stayed in an apartment in Plain.

      I have a Nook and it just doesn’t do it for me. I feel the same way you do about real, three-dimensional books! they are the best!

  11. says

    I so agree with you. B&N used to be one of my favorite places, I could spend hours browsing the books, settle into a comfy chair and decide if I really wanted to buy my selections. It was lovely. No longer. Alas, I think there will soon be no real books, no bookstores, nor libraries, either. It is all going to electronics, which is not the same at all. It is very disturbing. My book-loving daughter, who was reading at age three and considered books her best friends, has gone to the Kindle. She no longer wants bookshelves filled with books. She cancelled her magazine subscriptions. It is “easier” to do all her reading electronically. It breaks my heart!

    • Claudia says

      It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone – “What if you lived in a world with no books?”

  12. says

    We were thinking the same thing when we were in there the other day. It’s shocking. I guess they are trying their best to hang on as a bookstore. People have shifted their allegiance to Kindles and Nooks. But I agree, they need to decide what they are selling. Are they a toystore or a bookstore? I tihink they are just trying to hang on to their company with any means they can. I adore books, adore reading, and love my library.

    A firiend of mine who is an author told me she sees the demise of bookstores and books that are not on Kindles or Nooks. She was lamenting that a few years ago. It’s very sad. And I have friends who are librarians who see those institutions possibly going the way of the dinosaur. A world sans books and libraries is a sad world, indeed. The good news… the library in St. Augustine does a booming business. Every single time I go in, it’s packed. But we are the same as you in terms of actual bookstores. Barnes and Noble is the only real game in town. That and antique book sellers.

    And on a separate note, I alove that scarf you made. SO pretty. I can’t wait to give my MIL hers for Christmas.

    XO,

    Sheila

    • Claudia says

      Our little town library is fairly busy – and I don’t think I could live in a world without books and libraries. I’d be like that character played by Burgess Meredith in an old Twilight Zone episode – he wants to horde all the books in the world, he finally gets to and he breaks his glasses!

  13. Debra says

    As a librarian, I so agree with you Claudia. I feel like I am fighting every single day to keep the public library’s forcus on BOOKS!

  14. says

    Been to Strand, been to Powells. ADORED both. I miiss Borders because I felt I found more of my interests in Books there. I don’t enjoy reading on electronics and our local library issue failed in the last election so they are closing 3 more libraries in Henderson alone and are now closed Sunday and Mondays.

    I fear we are dinosaurs, we book lovers, and periodicals and newspapers have already felt their ecological demise.
    I don’t necessarily want to know what the state of books and education will be 50 years from now, let alone 100.
    My coffee is hot, there is a slight chill, but a blanket, my Ross McDonald book and a lounge on the porch will do me just fine. <3

    • Claudia says

      I can’t bear the thought of a world without books and libraries. That, to me, would be the end of any sort of cultural life.

  15. says

    I am holding out for books here and absolutely refuse to consider a Kindle. Luckily here in the UK we have Waterstones to do battle with Amazon, and long may they continue! I do order from Amazon if I can’t physically get to a store, but I feel guilty every time.

    Great post Claudia :)

  16. says

    I have a life long love of books and all book related, too, Claudia. But, I will tell you that I love my Kindle. I knew it would work for me from the first minute I learned of it. I have so … many books. Many, that I love and will keep forever. But, I finally had to accept that I cannot keep everything I read. Nor was I able to share enough to keep my stacks in control. I still purchase books – you know the ones that you have to have. But, every day when I get home I see my Kindle waiting by my chair. It is possible to feel love and snuggly about a Kindle. I know because I do.

    We have a few bookstores to treasure around here. The large chain bookstores make me crazy, too. They have gone the way of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker which now can all be found at the grocery store.

    • Claudia says

      I’m glad you like your Kindle, Beverly. I have a Nook and I have used it on trips, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I know what you mean about too many books, but I try to check books out of the library and if I have too many books here of my own, I go through them periodically and donate them to our local library’s annual book sale.

  17. says

    Oh boy.. Powell’s Book Store is just a half hour drive from my house.. you would *LOVE* it! Rooms upon rooms of books.. just BOOKS! I have used their service for finding vintage books and have 2 old copies of Samuel Lancaster’s book written about the Columbia River Highway. My niece’s husband works there. My kid’s grade school teacher’s family started and owns Powell’s. It’s definitely an Oregon treasure. I stood in line there to get Jean Auel to autograph the Clan of the Cave Bear.. the line snaked through miles of aisles of books. You should visit someday!
    ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

    • Claudia says

      I think I would be very happy working at Powells. But I bet those jobs are snapped up quickly, Teresa!

  18. Teresa says

    I am so with you on this. Here is my favorite bookstore, http://recyclebookstore.com/index.html
    That is one place that I can spend hours and hours. Their staff knows their books and feel quite passionate about them. I was there yesterday and came home with some wonderful treasures. Sorry, I do not want to sound like an infomercial. I just get very excited when I meet another book lover.
    I feel the same way about fabric stores anymore. They are all “crafty”. It is hard to find good fabrics that are not designed for quilting.

    • Claudia says

      Sounds wonderful, Teresa! There are so many of us book lovers out there and we see a world where books are less and less valued and it’s upsetting.

  19. says

    With you all the way! When Nashville’s Davis-Kidd closed down Nashvillians howled. Wonder how many of them who complained bought 90% of their books from Amazon? We are so lucky though that Ann Patchett was upset about Davis-Kidd closing too. Last year she opened up Parnassus Books in the Green Hill area. And there are books in her charming bookstore, with lots of regional authors featured. Someday young people might turn back to a book to hold in the hand the way many of them are to LPs, discovering how much fun it is to hold an album in their hand, and the piece of art that is a cover. Keep on your soapbox!

    • Claudia says

      I read about Ann Patchett’s bookstore, Dewena. I remember reading an article about it and I thought how wonderful it was that she took charge and opened up a bookstore! Don’t worry, I’ll stay on this soapbox!

  20. says

    You’re so right! I almost never find what I’m lookng for in a regular book shop. And I won’t buy sight unseen. Amazon is covenient and cheaper if you already know what you want. But there’s definitely a gap there! That doesn’t keep us from getting swallowed up in time in a bookstore anyway!

    • Claudia says

      Yes, sometimes I just want to explore what’s out there and discover new authors – hard to do on Amazon.

  21. says

    I hear you. I can never find the book I need for my book club at the book store anymore. So I end up having to order from Amazon. So sad. Two of the gals have kindles, so they just order it right up. I’m holding out… I don’t want a kindle. I want the book!
    Thank goodness we have an amazingly wonderful children’s bookstore nearby, so at least I am able to browse and read when I go shopping for the wee ones in my life. Holding the actual book, inhaling that smell of new book, flipping through the pages to see the illustrations and how the words flow… it’s so important when making a choice.
    I am so afraid that books are going to be completely gone in a few more years.

    • Claudia says

      I know, I fear it, too. I totally agree with you about holding the book in my hand, feeling the paper, all of it.

  22. says

    I’ve noticed the last time I was in a book store…the very same trend. I haven’t been to a library in years…but only imagine it’s going the same way. Then I read Martha’s comment….that is just plain scary.
    When my children were still at home…I looked forward every year to go to the Homeschool Book Fair. The Arlington convention center packed FULL of books. There were other booths too…for science projects and math, my son went one year and hung out in the CHESS CORNER playing chess the whole time…but the books were wonderful. I always gravitated to the used book section. The selection was always vast and varied….and the books smelled ‘loved’. (not like the new ones)

    -enjoyed this post. Pat

    • Claudia says

      Thank you, Pat. I love libraries and I love bookstores. I want them to stay in existence, filled primarily with books!

  23. says

    We have an amazing bookstore here called Joseph Beth Booksellers. It has loads of books along with other things. I love going there. I have to admit I am on such a small budget that I find books I like and then check the library for them. Some day I will again be a purchaser.

    Hugs,
    Laura

    • Claudia says

      I often do the same thing, Laura. More often than not. I reserve the book at the library. But every once in a while I treat myself to a new book!

  24. says

    It’s not just the big stores that go astray. We finally lost the small independent book shop in my area of South West London because it foolishly decided, after over thirty years, to become a kind of half-cafe – and not a very good one either – thus leaving precious little space for books or browsing. Result: no one went there for anything in the end! Like Annie, I use Waterstones (Amazon pay no corporation tax in the UK and currently many people are turning away from them) but I also find there are discounts to be had on new books through the bookclubs that our broadsheet newspapers run, and abebooks are a goldmine of secondhand books available from all over the world. Keep those pages turning everyone!

    • Claudia says

      I know – why try to be a cafe? Just be a bookstore! I have been in Waterstones and love that store. If I lived in London, you bet I would be frequentlng its aisles.

  25. says

    All the stores are kind of going “Walmart” on us. A little bit of everything in the store to satisfy everyone. I guess they figure that books alone aren’t a draw into the store. A pity. I don’t buy much in actual stores anymore for that reason. I go online and get precisely what I want. I would love it if bookstores would make a comeback.
    Brenda

    • Claudia says

      Yes, but what if you don’t know exactly what you want? What if you want to compare a few book by actually looking at them and holding them? You can only do that in a bookstore.

  26. says

    I love books and bookstores but because of the eloquent reasons you have stated I rarely go to B&N. I do go to our used book stores. Really if you dwelt on this it’s depressing. Instead I shall grab my book about hiking the Appalachian Trail, drink some coffee, then maybe take a nap. xo, olive

  27. says

    It is so sad that the book store have to have so many non-books to keep in business. I used to go to Barnes and NOble and get a big stack of magazines. Hubby as well. We would sit in the comfy overstuffed chairs that had seen there share of wear. We would buy a couple of them but mostly just browsed the large stack. Now they have removed most of the chairs. Not so much fun anymore.
    Do you remember the movie “You got Mail”. I loved the bookstore that MEg Ryan owned. Loved her story hour. I miss those kind of book stores.
    I always weigh the gasvs. the miles when going places. Our B & N is about 45 minutes away. So lately I order online. Just returning from the grocery finding my favorite tiny Gluten-Free bread is now $5.09……so I guess I may be driving to go to Trader Joes and that B and N store. That one has an escaltor.
    Oh for the old day.

    • Claudia says

      I loved that bookstore in You’ve Got Mail. Small, charming and wonderful. And, though I love the romance, I found it hard to forgive Tom Hanks for putting her out of business!

  28. says

    I feel your pain…. There used to be dozens of bookstores in my area and now there is only one left. I want to cry. There isn’t alot of things that satisfy me more than spending an afternoon lost in a bookstore, sitting on the carpet with a stack of books and narrowing them down to the 2 I can afford to purchase. I love to walk out of the store with them clasped to my chest in anticipation of reading one as soon as I get home. Somehow Amazon doesn’t provide that same excitement.

    • Claudia says

      Me, too, Kim. I do the same thing. I can only afford one or two, so I have to narrow it down. But to have a choice, to be able to actually look at the book and hold it in your hand makes all the difference!

  29. Annette Tracy says

    It is a pity what has happened to our books stores. We are a book loving family, my husband iis sick and doesn’t get out, but s an avid reader, and my 23 yo daughter keeps a list of books he’s read so when we go to find him books she has it w/her. We are lucky enough to have a used book store up in Ventura, it’s called The Bank of Books, and it is wonderful. He also owns another one a couple of miles up the road that deals more w/the classics and religious books. He was in a great spot in downtown Ventura and the city raised his rent 3x the amount he was paying, so he moved up the road a ways, it’s even bigger and better than before. He holds poetry readings, book signings, ghost tour walks, engages the city in his store. We take our used books in, get credit and repurchase more. You’d love it, Claudia. I hear he just opened another one up in Malibu, but I’ve yet to visit it. The same is true with fabric stores, all we have is JoAnn’s. Sometimes it feels like a conspiracy when it comes to shopping, even the major dept stores are closing right and left. This was a great post.

  30. says

    Another of the perks of my recent travels have been the airport bookstores in other countries. I’m always overwhelmed at the marvelous array of books not always available in the US. I find so many I long to purchase but of course have to stick with one or two to carry on the plane, and, when the layover is short, I never have time enough to make informed choices, so grab something and just hope it’s going to be a good read. Istanbul airport had a great bookshop and I bought Paula McLain’s ‘The Paris Wife’ to read on the flight to Toronto – story of Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley Richardson set in 1920’s Jazz Age Paris. Needless to say, after two glasses of excellent Turkish red wine, a delicious – for a change – airline meal (Turkish Airlines by default as our Delta flight was canceled!), and the need to wear earbuds to drown out the coughers, hackers and screaming babies…………I only read a few pages during the 9.5 hour flight, BUT I know I will enjoy it on my next trip in a few weeks!!

    My quandary now…….should I buy a Nook (which is top-rated by Consumer Reports) to take a lot a books on a lengthy journey with many days at sea in January! I hate to give in as I too much prefer a real book and always a beautiful bookmark – but with limited luggage space perhaps I’m going to have to cave in………….or NOT!!!!!

    Hope your week is going well Claudia – I’m chasing my tail as there’s so much to do here around house and golden leafed-covered garden – they’re falling fast and furious after a wet, windy day.

    Mary X

  31. says

    Whoever thought bookstores would have to try to stay relevant. I could say exactly the same thing about libraries, these days. More people seem to check out DVDs and use the space for free internet. Frustrating for us book lovers, but as I’ve said before I have come to love my Kindle and actually read some books on it I would probably never find at a bookstore. However, when I want to know about certain books or actually own a special one I still head for a bookstore. There I can feel and read and make a list. Times are tough, even for businesses. Ann

  32. Donna Krobock says

    I am a life long book lover! I am still in the unpacking phase of our latest move and just rediscovered some of my childhood books: Bobbsey Twins, The Happy Hollisters and a Raggedy Ann & Andy series. Twenty three years of military moving and I am still so thrilled each time I unwrap these childhood favorites. The movers always groan when they see how many books I have, but I tell them I am doing my part to promote job security as they get paid by the pound:-) My books are like friends and I can’t imagine giving them up!

  33. says

    Hi Claudia,
    Your scarves are so rich with texture and fine stitching. What beautiful work you do.
    My idea of a hot date is a trip to the bookstore with my husband. We stay for hours and go home quite satisfied that we have had a night out on the town.
    Thanks for sharing, my friend.
    Carolynn

  34. says

    Hi Claudia, I agree with you completely. Your thoughts are mine. I love bookstores and just can’t get enough. I have noticed the same in our B&N. Not too many small town book shoppes here. My son found a shop called Half Price Books and I found it to be a good place to find nice books at a lower price. I have my own library of sorts in our home. A wall of shelves filled to the ceiling with books of all kinds that I love to read over and over. I have collected books for years and also inherited my parents books when they passed away. I have so many and can not part with any. Do you remember the Book Mobile when we were kids at Snow School? It would park in the teachers parking lot on Thursday’s, after school. I would break my neck to get there and one afternoon I got caught in a terrible thunder storm walking home carrying my checked out books. I was only about 9 years old, scared to death but held those books close running home.
    I loved this post Claudia and came over after a visit to Jacqueline’s C&C. The rare book store she shares is fabulous.
    Have a wonderful day and happy reading!
    Hugs, CM

  35. says

    I hear you! About the only time I go to B&N anymore is to get bulbs for my book light or a special book for my granddaughter. I prefer the library — they have lots of books!! And Half Price Books if I’m in a buying mood!

  36. says

    Totally agree with you, Claudia! When I go to B&N, I rarely buy anything, but I’m there to look at the books and magazines. I never look at the games, cards, and little gifts. I much prefer independent bookstores, but they seem to be a thing of the past. I get most of my books at library book sales, Goodwill, and through paperbackswap.com.

  37. Susan says

    We need to start a Book Movement -I’m serious. There must be something that we can do, so we at least have a choice of having a real book, or the Kindle, or whatever. I would be lost without my books! My daughter is an
    English teacher and they use ipads in her classroom, because they can’t afford to buy books for the classroom. It breaks her heart~

  38. says

    I don’t think that marketing strategy is working very well in New England because the B&N stores I know of have all closed. On the other side of that coin we do have many independent book shops, including some that sell gently used and even vintage books, and for that I’m very grateful. Quite a few churches and ibraries in my area have annual book sales which is a good way to find books at a reasonable price. Authors miss the bookstores of their youth as well. Read this article when you have a chance, Claudia. It’s really lovely. http://www.parade.com/news/views/guest/121118-richard-russo-wonder-of-bookstores-reading.html

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