Hi. I'm not going to apologize for taking a few days off from the blog, because I've been apologizing for too much lately, and the spiral has to stop somewhere. We had snow this week. I had deadlines, and have more on Monday. Gaslight opened its fourth and final show of 2009 on Thursday night — Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, which is the strongest show we've put up this season, and it's been a good season if I do say so myself. If you're in the area, you owe it to yourself to see it; performances continue tonight and next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Next Friday the show I'm in, Doubt, opens at the Waterville Studio Theater for six performances, November 13–15 and 20–22.
Did I say that I am desperately tired?
But today is the first annual National Bookstore Day, which is a good excuse to step away from the computer and into your local bookstore. Here are five things you can do to support your local bookstore, not just today but any day:
1. Make your next book purchase in a store instead of online. It's obvious, but I'm not just talking about giving your custom to a bricks-and-mortar store instead of to Amazon; I'm talking about being a book gatherer rather than a book hunter. Shopping online is convenient if you know exactly what you're looking for; you hunt it down, point and click, and your prey arrives at your door. But you miss so much that way. You miss the endless pleasure of browsing, the possibility of finding something unexpected and delightful.
2. Go to an author event. Hundreds of authors are on the road at any given time, peddling their works like door-to-door sales reps. Authors spend long stretches of time alone at their desks, muttering to themselves and praying they're not wasting their time. They long for the opportunity to explain themselves to readers, and could probably use a little human company. Go see one. Call it a corporal work of mercy.
3. Pay full price for a book. You like cheap books. I like cheap books. The deep discounting of books in stores like Wal-Mart, Target and — yes — Barnes & Noble and Borders has created profound and dismaying distortions in the publishing and bookselling industries. When the cover price on a bestselling hardcover is $27.95, why would you pay full price? But every time Wal-Mart sells a $27.95 book for $14.00, it hurts the book business. It hurts every author who isn't a bestseller; it hurts the publishers; it hurts independent bookstores. It doesn't even do that much for the bestselling authors whose books are discounted. Skip this morning's Starbucks and pay full price for the new Stephen King. Buy it at an independent bookstore.
4. Take a kid to a bookstore. This is a golden age for children's books, and the ability to focus on an extended narrative is one of the most valuable skills a child can develop. Every book you buy for a child is an investment in that child's future.
5. Ask a bookseller to recommend an author you've never read. People work in bookstores because they love books, and nothing pleases a good bookseller more than to be asked for a recommendation. Thousands of books get published every year, and most of them sink like stones. Finding a book that everyone else has overlooked is like finding a diamond in a box of pebbles, and it's an experience a bookseller never forgets. I will always remember pressing a copy of The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency on a customer before anyone had ever heard of Alexander McCall Smith, and I know that customer still talks about how she was reading that series before anyone else had heard of it.
And now, because I'm so tired today that my filter's gone, I'll add a suggestion for the booksellers themselves:
6. Remember why you're in this business. One of my many friends and relations recently brought her children into a well-known, big-city independent bookstore on a weekend afternoon. The store is one that does not cater specifically to children, although it has a few children's titles in stock; but these children are well-behaved, and used to shopping in the adult world. The two people working at the store that afternoon not only ignored my relative — who had gone into the store with the express intention of buying at least one book — but were sharp with her children. My relative left empty-handed, and is not likely to visit that store again. I have no connection to the store in question, but I've been there myself, and I had to admit the story didn't surprise me. An unfortunate minority of independent bookstores are run as their owners' private clubhouses. No amount of special events or celebrations of independent bookselling can save these businesses, nor should they. A good bookstore should be like a good church, determined to share its blessings with all who enter.