Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Corporate vs. Independent Bookstores: A Comfortable Chair
Loafers at Barnes & Noble
Stuart Walton, a blogger for the Guardian, has launched an attack on corporate bookstores on account of the INTERIOR DECORATION. He reviles the comfortable chairs at Borders and Waterstones and disdains the non-book-buying clientele who squat in them. Book buyers like himself never get the comfortable chairs, he says. And as if this argument weren’t strange enough, he claims that the coffee smells bad and splashes the books.
Though he prefers independent bookstores, he doesn’t defend hand-selling of small-press books or other traditional practices of the independents. No, that's not why he likes them. He claims he misses the cold independent bookstore clerks who don't look up from their books when you come in.
So that has me thinking.
The comfortable chair is not an issue for me. It is true that many students and be-black-clothed types with laptops claim those cozy chairs or occupy the tables at the coffeehouse. It adds to the ambiance, I would have thought if I thought about it at all, because it gives you a feeling that readers are everywhere (even the laptop users SEEM to be reading). And if the employee who thought I was a homeless person is right, people hang out there all day. “You can sit here as long as you want.” The non-consumer inhabitants don't bother the clerks. They like to get people in there and then let the books work their magic.
Now this is not the case at the independent bookstores. At one cranky lady's bookstore, I have been followed suspiciously as if I were about to commit grand larceny. Yes, one employee seemed to expect me to load the entire small M-Z fiction shelves into my bag; why I cannot tell you. I blame it on my shabby denim bicycling outfit and helmet. (Oh, and the sweat.) The last time I was there I voluntarily left my bag behind the desk so I could comfortably peruse the books. This is enabling them: I should have hung onto my bag.
AS FOR THE COFFEE THING: Coffee is a '90s innovation, both for bookstores and libraries. I never go to a Barnes & Noble, Borders, or public library without buying coffee. Who can resist? I even tend to drink coffee when I’m buying at AMAZON or ABE’S BOOKS. But because the coffee cups in public stores have LIDS, I am unaware of ever having splashed a book. On the other hand, I am not one to lounge in comfortable chairs and spill my coffee. I browse standing up, occasionally sipping from my cup, and figure out what I need to buy.
The interior decoration is never great. B&N has a kind of green and wood thing going for it. The green bags match the decor. Perhaps Borders is more reddish. The comfortable chairs are a little TOO plush for reading. They swallow you up.
I love independent USED bookstores, but if STUART WALTON had to put up with my independent NEW store - and he does sound like the kind of book-obsessed character they foil - he'd never leave the house.
Posted by Frisbee at 6:39 PM