Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Death of the Eureka, CA Borders (a.k.a. A Cruel Story)

By now you've heard the news.  Borders, that behemoth of a bookstore (sorry, superstore), is shutting its doors.  Gone will be the expensive CDs and overpriced coffee.  I say that with some satisfaction, but also some lamenting, as well.

It was bound to happen.  Borders bit off more than it could chew.  It became the 496 pound man that couldn't sustain himself anymore.  DVDs, CDs, coffee -- it strayed from selling books and went with an eReader nobody wanted.  When the first wave of closures hit, our Borders in Eureka, CA was saved, much to the relief of the Bayshore Mall where it is located.  Now, however, nothing can save it, and the vultures are circling, waiting for those 60% off signs to go up.

As much as I dislike large corporations, Borders gave our area the best selection of books, and acted as a feeder store to the local independent bookstores (including the ones that wouldn't give me a job when I needed it, which is why I tend to spend my money elsewhere).  It had all the other stores combined beat when it came to selection and price.  And books bought at Borders often ended up at our local used bookstores, a void that will be hard to fill now.  (Hell, Borders even carried my book, something the local independents didn't do.  The store bought a good deal of copies, too, with hopes I'd do an autograph signing, which I was never going to do.)

If any store came close to competing, it was Arcata's Northtown Books.  A small, eclectic bookstore that rubbed me the wrong way when I tried to get a copy of Meat is Murder.

Years ago I wanted that book, and I was doing ninety percent of my purchasing from Northtown Books.  It was one of the few reasons to actually go to Arcata, truth be told.  I had the place do special orders for me in the past, so when I called and found out the store didn't have the book in stock, I asked if it was something that could be ordered.

After much searching on the computer I was told that it could be ordered from overseas.  Northtown Books had done that for me in the past, so I requested that again and was told "no."  It was a "hassle."  I offered to pay shipping (something I didn't have to do before).  Again, I was turned down.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the clerk told me to "try the Internet."

So I did and got it at Powell's.

(A friend suggested, without knowing the store, that it was the subject matter that caused the problem.  This seems unlikely as I had ordered things of a similar nature previously, including Killing for Culture, which is a great examination of snuff films.)

I've done very little buying at Northtown Books ever since.  Now with Borders going away, that may change ... though I doubt it.  Amazon is easier, and nobody asks me for change when I'm adding stuff to my wish list.  I don't have to worry about parking, and nor do I have to have my ears assaulted with whatever New Age drivel is being played.  The closing of the superstore (not so super now) will affect me, but not as much as those who will be out of a job, and for those who lack computer access.  I'm not even sure that the local independents will get a lot more business from this, as was indicated on KIEM (our local NBC affiliate) this evening.

A few people were interviewed about the closing, and all expressed barely coherent dismay.  One person mentioned going to the local independents, but another said something I think will be what the majority of people do.  She said she would just go to Target(!), of all places, for her book fix.  Target is great if you want a recent bestseller, which some people still do, but as far as a backlist goes or for anything off the beaten path -- forget it!  Try finding Human Oddities there.  Better yet, try to get Target to order it.  And then there is Costco, another book pimp specializing in only the most mainstream of the mainstream.  Borders' business is going to be migrating to these two places.

People can jump for joy whenever a big box retailer chokes out its last breath.  This is no Wal-Mart closing, or Sam's catching on fire.  Borders, for all its Danielle Steel crap and Jelly Belly assortments, was still a haven for ideas, information and culture.  Yes, you could get the lastest insanity from Glenn Beck, (don't click on the link -- it leads to homosexual porn reviews) but you could also find true crime from Britain or books on the study of death metal.  It had something for everyone ... who reads.  To see something that go away is bittersweet at best, and a blow to readers, publishers, authors and other book retailers at worst.  There is no real winner here.  At least not in Eureka.

And I'm still pretty damn unlikely to go into Arcata for my cannibal literature fix.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a small commission, which I shall use to be all kinds of marvelous and wonderful tomes.  I promise, though, no Danielle Steel.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Kindle Debate Continues ...

I've been asking around on the Kindle even more than previously as of late.  Not because I want to buy a Kindle and am trying to justify it in some way.  Moreso because I want to learn more about what makes people buy the device (and other eReaders, but since I publish on the Kindle -- see sidebar -- that's all I really care about).  The answers haven't changed since last time.  People site that being able to change the font size, the ease of use (books seem pretty easy to use, too), the idea of saving shelf space, price of books and so on, are the chief reasons.  Oddly enough, nobody in this current group has mentioned environmental impacts.

I've been attempting to promote my Kindle works as I try to establish a bigger fan base before I publish the novel there.  I'm finding that the promotion that works the best is just simple word-of-mouth.  What is more surprising, however, is who is using the Kindle, and I have no idea on how to promote to them.

Of all the people I questioned, whom I would consider to be voracious readers, very few of them own a Kindle.  Yes, some of them do, but the majority of the people I questioned who owned the device were not heavy readers.  Why they own a Kindle is beyond me.  I think they may be tech-smitten.  Oddly enough, these are the people who make more purchases based on -- you guessed it -- word of mouth.

I imagine heavy readers already know what they want to read and most likely consult critics for new reading choices.  Readers who tend to only read a few books a year probably do more buying based on what their friends say is good.  As I try to earn enough money off this Kindle venture to get noticed and get rid of my day job, I can honestly say I don't care who is reading my stuff.  The other side of me, however, would rather it be heavy readers, as those are the people who will be able to better criticize my work and make me a better writer.  I don't want to fall into that Hollywood trap where the only demographics listened to are the ones who go to see every movie.  They love bigger explosions, so most of what we get are movies with bigger explosions.  If I listened to the majority, I'd be writing about teen vampires.  (I do actually have a teen romance story in mind, but it will be very inappropriate.)  I think the two short stories I have on Kindle now can appeal to both audiences, and I'm sure the manuscript that is coming will, too.  (The only problem is whether or not people will be able to finish it.  I had let a few people read a draft of it two years back and there was a handful who could not get very far as it bothered them too much.  They didn't even get to the wet stuff, and they were upset.  That could actually bode well, as that kind of word of mouth sells stories.)

Time will tell if this promotional work I'm doing pays off.  I don't think it will get me nearly as many readers as word of mouth, and I'm okay with that.  As long as people are reading ...

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a small commission, but not from Amazon.  That company hates stupid California tax laws.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Abortion Wars

If you are ever interested in a history of women's reproductive struggles (and you should be), Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle -- 1950-2000 is one of the finest books I've read on the subject.  And before the FTC comes down on me, no, I did not receive this book to review.  I bought it because I'm interested in the subject.

You would expect a book like this to be lighthearted and full of feel-good essays on the simplistic issue of abortion.  Of course, it's not.  Hell, the publisher is University of California Press.  When has that publisher ever put out an easy read?  Never that I can think of, so this isn't beach reading, and I doubt a movie will ever be made of it.  (Some colleges apparently use it as a textbook, though.)  It is, however, a fascinating look at fifty years of reproductive struggles in this country.  With nearly twenty different write-ups on the subject, there's bound to be something new here for the armchair scholar.  If you are anti-abortion, however, it is highly unlikely this book is going change your views on anything, as most anti-abortionists I've met already have their minds firmly made up, as do most pro-choice folks.  This book is written for the pro-choice people.  It's not preaching to the converted, however.  It is seeking to educate and demonstrate just how far we've gone, but yet are still covering the same ground.

These days the issue of abortion really only comes around when there's an election to be won.  At least that's the only time the mainstream media really focuses on it.  If you were to use that as your barometer, doctors are no longer being shot, clinics aren't being targeted, and the right to choose seems as safe as your right to cable television.  The reality is a whole different picture, however.  Delving into this shows exactly what can happen when you let your guard down.  It's a lesson those who are pro-choice need to remember.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Again, I did not get this to review.  And, if you click on a link, I may get a small commission.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Cautionary Tale Part Deuce

Back in 2009 I wrote about The Anarchist Cookbook.  You know about the book, I'm sure.  A guidebook, no matter how questionable, on how to make bombs, improvised weapons, drugs, etc..  Really hippie stuff, you know?  I wrote about my experience in trying to buy the damn thing many, many moons ago.  I'm a sucker for someone telling me I can't buy a book.  The first thing I want to do is march out and get it.  Hence, my copy of Rainbow Party.  Anyway ...

While looking at my stats for the week on this blog, I noticed two interesting things.  One: That 2009 posting is the most read post of the week.  Two:  I had more readers from Ireland this week than any other country, including the USA, which is the first time I can remember that happening.  Coincidence, or are Irish Republican Army supporters doing some random Google searches for inspiration?  I have no idea, but it made me think more about what this book represents.

First of all, anyone who thinks it ties in politically with anarchism has their signals crossed.  It's more about chaos and general distrust than anything else, but regardless, should books like this exist?  Should there be books out there that teach people how to make bombs, how to poison and cause other types of destruction?

Books, with few exceptions (and usually always religious-based) don't make people violent.  Violent people are drawn to certain books.  So are the curious.  Anyone reading The Anarchist Cookbook is not going to go from pacifist to bomb throwing nut case by the final page.  It just won't happen.  And while it can give someone on the fringes of sanity (however you define it) the blueprints for making some kind of weapon of destruction, that person doesn't really need it because we all have that capacity within us, and if there is one thing we are really good at it is finding out ways to hurt other people.

That doesn't answer the question, though.  It's easy to say previously banned books, such Alice in Wonderland, American Psycho and Uncle Tom's Cabin, should have never been banned.  They are stories, and we tend to agree stories don't hurt people.  (Well, governments don't tend to agree, and neither do certain groups, but independent thinkers tend to agree on that.)  But what about something that serves as a how-to manual for making bombs?  Should that be available?


That type of book is doing something that is dangerous.  It is giving its readers information.  Information, of any sort, is dangerous to the people who don't want you to have it.  This information could be related to making nerve gas or torture techniques used on "terrorists."  Once you suppress one type of information, it's very easy to suppress another.  It's easy to justify, and it's easy to do.

As far as I can tell, The Anarchist Cookbook was never "officially" banned by our government, though places did not sell it or make it otherwise available to the public (as I detailed in my original post).  Lots of websites say it was banned, but a quick Wikipedia check shows otherwise.  The author of the book, William Powell, wanted the book to be yanked from sale after he "matured," and eventually the publisher did drop it.  That had more to do with morals (and perhaps fear of legal action) than a government-guided ban.

Ideas and information exist help goals become accomplished, better society, encourage debate and so on.  Taking ideas and information out of circulation only ends up giving them more strength than what they would've had on their own and cause more people to seek them out.  It also demonstrates that the censor in power has little faith in their own ideals.  It's a dangerous game to play, but governments and groups continue to do it, stating they are trying to "protect" us.  If that doesn't send a chill down one's spine, perhaps you do need protecting.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a small commission.