Monday, August 30, 2010

Questing for books

The whole Mockingjay kerfluffle has made me think a lot about how getting books has changed in the past few decades.

As a young girl, I loved Nancy Drew. Before I knew the word completist, I was one. It was the yellow-spine era, and I spent a couple of years checking every bookstore I came across for any of the 56 hardbacks. Strange how the small bookstores that dotted our town and every other then seemed somehow to have more stock than the massive chains which have replaced them.

When I had all but three of the yellow Nancys, I was allowed to use the form at the back of the book to order the copies to round out my set. My parents wrote a check to the Strathmore Syndicate. It took six to eight weeks for delivery. It was magical when those three books arrived.

Aside from this, which now seems a rather Herculean effort, I always read what was around. At home, it was wildly age-inappropriate things scavenged from my mother and grandmothers. My senior year of high school, I had an after-school job in a used bookstore which did a brisk trade in mass market paperbacks, and I read my way through anything in their stock that looked interesting.

In college, I had ample access to almost anything I wanted to read via the trifecta of an Ivy League college library, an excellent independent bookstore (now, sadly, a Barnes and Noble), and a well-supported public library. I DO remember going to the Strand in 1991, looking for a biography of Gilles de Rai that appeared in the NYT without luck, but most of my bookquesting was fulfilled for a while.

After college, left the vagaries of used book stores and underfunded public libraries, I became a much more eclectic reader, borrowing anything anyone recommended or was new, but always with crumpled pieces of paper in the bottom of my purse listing books I was looking for, questing for, in every bookstore I passed…then everything changed.

In 1997, I was taking a class on Irish literature for my first master’s, and saw a review of The Dower House by Annabell Goff Davis, which manifested the Irish history we had been reading about in fiction, in the New York Times. That was just after I had read about Amazon in the NYT (and that was when we got the NYT by mail, the next day). And then, for the cost of shipping, just about any book in the world could be mine. When I consider all my reading over the last decade – deep forays into Angela Thirkell, Barbara Pym, and Margaret Forester – it overwhelmingly represents things I would never have been able to find locally.

I don’t read many bestsellers, so most of what I’m after is definite long-tail stuff, but I think the Internet has actually tripped me up on Mockingjay. Had I gone to Barnes and Noble, I could have read it Tuesday, but I preordered, Apple’s preorders having spoiled me. I didn’t want the Kindle version, because I wanted to share it with my students before our library copies arrived. So I didn’t get my Mockingjay until Thursday, and was left with that deep dissatisfaction which occurs when you miss the opening weekend of a movie everyone else was buzzing about… and a reminder that there are other, more expedient ways to get those popular books, rather than online.

1 comment:

  1. Wendy, I couldn't agree more! I chose B&N over Powells (cheaper) and Amazon (not a "real" booksore) because I physically could not get to a bookstore until Thursday/Friday and wanted Mockingjay Day of Release. I could have not bothered, as B&N didn't even ship until Tuesday and then for some reason it took until Thursday to get to me (usually B&N gets to me next day).

    It's let me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, particularly since B&N is not doing well financially and this is one area they could have shone in. Guess my pre-orders will go to Powells from now on.