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#IndieThursday: Shopping Trip!

15 Sep

Jenn at Jenn’s BookShelves (also one of my favorite local bloggers) recently started a new series on Twitter celebrating Indie Bookstores. I’ve tried to become much more thoughtful and conscientious of where I make my book purchases. I stay entirely away from if I can help it (for books at least. But when they’ve got West Wing seasons at 16 bucks a piece? Yeah, I’m helpless when it comes to Aaron Sorkin). I had to buy a couple of cookbooks for my mom and the only bookstore convenient to me at work is Barnes & Noble. But for the most part, I shop Indie.  (One of the difficulties of shopping Indies is that since Olsson’s in Penn Quarter closed a few years ago – one of the great DC indie chains – I have no store near my office aside from B&N).

Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday by flying to Boston and then driving to Maine with friends for a wedding. But before we left the Boston area, I made a trip to one of my favorite bookstores, Brookline Booksmith, in Coolidge Corner.  No matter what, whenever I visit my friends in Boston, I make a pilgrimage to the Booksmith. Their selection is fantastic – I always know I’m going to find something I’ve been looking for elsewhere or something I’ve never heard of. The booksellers are incredibly helpful and they list employee recommendations  throughout the store on shelftalkers. I’ve found some stellar books just by using these recommendations.

This trip was no exception. I picked up four paperbacks:

The Curfew by Jesse Ball
Pretty by Jillian Lauren
Record Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time by Courtney Smith
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Great haul, huh?

After somehow finding space in my suitcase for those, I spent a couple fabulous days freezing my butt off on the coast of Maine, just north of the New Hampshire/Maine border. It was a beautiful wedding, and I got to spend my birthday weekend with my very best friends in the world. On the way back to Boston, I put on my best innocent smile, and convinced my traveling buddies that we needed to stop in Portsmouth, NH so I could visit RiverRun Bookstore (and meet Liberty who came running into the store and yelled, Is anyone here Rachel?? LOVE.)

Of course I had to pick up a few things there too!

Other People We Married by Emma Straub
Mudbound by Hilary Jordan

So I managed to come home from a three-day trip with six additional books. Because of course, I brought a couple with me to start with. Needless to say, my suitcase was rather heavy by the time I got home. What are your favorite indie bookstores? Join the conversation on Twitter by sharing your most recent purchase at an indie book store by using the hashtag #indiethursday!


Borders & The Future of Bookselling

20 Jul

I admit most people who were going to comment on the closing and liquidation of Borders have already done so since the news that the bookseller is officially going under two days ago. But I’ve been mulling it over, reading through some articles and blog comments and trying to decide how I feel about the whole mess.

And my overwhelming feeling is sadness.

As a former bookseller – and one who worked for Borders’ largest competitor, Barnes & Noble – my reaction has been more personal than (I suspect) the Average Jane out there. Fellow booksellers can relate. It’s never a good thing when there are fewer shelves to peruse, fewer opportunities to discover a new book because you saw it on a bookstore table somewhere or because a bookseller suggested it. One well-meaning friend expressed to me that she was surprised that I was sad about the closing since I’d been pretty loyal to my  former employer and wasn’t really a regular Borders customer.

I don’t think its possible to express how off base that sentiment is. The word “competitor” is key here: without like-minded competition in the market, it doesn’t open up an opportunity for a monopoly by B&N; it only drives those book-buying customers who are losing their town’s only bookstore to Amazon in even larger numbers. Brick-and-mortar bookstores provide a service that is hard to come by, and the big chain bookstores provide that service to droves of people who would never set foot in an indie bookstore. We’re losing not only the opportunity to browse, but we’re also losing miles of shelf space dedicated to niche genres – romance, sci-fi and fantasy, manga, even most of the non-fiction categories you take for granted in a box bookstore – that indies don’t have the space nor the inclination to stock. Those genre purchaser are going to flock to online retailers, which only furthers the decline of hand-to-hand bookselling.

One lesson I’m taking from all of this is that I must make a more conscious effort to be aware of how my book purchases are made. I – and we all – should become responsible consumers, if we’re dedicated to books and to the place brick-and-mortar bookstores have in our culture and in our economy. As a blogger who receives many books for review, the book purchases I make from this point on are going to become much more strategic.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen my tweets about how I planned to purchase George R. R. Martin’s new book A Dance with Dragons. There is a Barnes & Noble two blocks from my work in downtown DC, but I’m choosing to buy this hugely successful book through my local indie bookseller. I don’t buy many books from bookstores any more, but I KNOW Martin is going to sell a preposterous number of copies, and I can do my small part by buying from a bookstore that might not see as much of the love because it’s likely that many people pre-ordered the book online. I wanted my dollars to directly support a local business, and I will happily pay more for the same book to do so.

However, I’m staring down the barrel of graduate school in about a month and I plan to order and buy my textbooks from Barnes & Noble. I’m doing this because, with the Borders closing, I’m reminded that it’s not just the indies we’ve got a responsibility to – it’s all bookstores, whether they’re corporate giants or locally owned. There is  a place – a welcome place – for Barnes & Noble and other box bookstores like Borders in our book buying sensibilities. We have a responsibility to remember that as well.

If you don’t believe me, take the example of the Barnes & Noble that opened my sophomore year of college in the neighboring town near my campus. There had previously only been one, very tiny, poorly stocked indie bookseller in my college village – it was the ONLY bookstore for about 50 miles in any direction (not counting my college bookstore – and no one did). If you didn’t live in the village, you likely had no idea that this tiny indie existed, and therefore had no available brick-and-mortar bookstore without driving an hour away. When the Barnes & Noble opened, it became one of the busiest and most popular places to go in town. People made the effort to travel to shop there and it was never empty, no matter the time of day. For that community, that was their local bookstore. When they bought from this store, it put money into the local economy that was previously being spent exclusively online. Now, I can’t imagine what would happen, how that city and the surrounding towns would drastically change, if they were to lose their bookstore.

Think about how much money would be lost to Amazon based purely on the fact that this bookstore stocked all the required school reading for no fewer than five school districts. And then tell me that all box bookstores are killing bookselling.

There’s no denying that the practice of bookselling is changing, but as long as there are bookstores out there, there will be capable and intelligent book lovers who will be happy to suggest a book to you. If you haven’t visited your local bookstore, maybe this weekend take a trip and remind yourself how great it feels to walk down the aisles and discover something new.

I am a Powell’s affiliate, and I’m in the process of becoming an IndieBound affiliate. I encourage you to visit your local indie as well. Find it by clicking on the banner below:

If you’d also like to shop online, I encourage you to use Powell’s:
Visit Scenic
I’ll also be posting the giveaway winner for Erica Jong’s Sugar in My Bowl this evening at 8pm so be sure to enter by clicking on the title or here.

And if you don’t win, you can buy a copy by clicking on the cover below:

Christmas in July

30 Jul

I may, MAY, have just gone a little nuts in Borders. Book binge, FTW (that means “for the win,” Mom.).

Lemme explain. The Borders located about a block away from my office building is closing. It’s pretty prime real estate in downtown DC, but I’m sad it’s going away. HOWEVER, bad for them = good for me. They’ve discounted all adult trade books by 40% — as low as they can go. I’ve been meaning to go over there for a few weeks now, but they’re in their last days before shutting the doors for good, and I finally took a lunch break to peruse the selection. I honestly wasn’t expecting much. Boy was I wrong!

There was so much great front list (new releases, if you don’t know the lingo), and some good back list finds (older books in their respective sections), that I may have gone a little overboard. I grabbed a basket — or rather, I asked a cashier for a basket since they were all out, up front, after my arms were full. She dumped out one full of plastic security cases for DVDs and handed it over. I told her she wouldn’t be sorry. Sure enough, I only stopped shopping because that basket was full. Trust that if I’d been able to carry anything more, I would have bought it. Most of the backlist I did buy was for my Must Read: Classics list — very productive indeed!

Lemme break it down for you:

20 books

9 hardcovers

11 paperbacks


Total savings: $163.30

Not bad, right? Yes, $246 is a lot of money, but these are all books I probably would have bought eventually and bought at full price or close to it.

Wanna know what I got? Of course you do!!






It’s possible — a little bit possible — that there’s a duplicate or two in there, from things I already have. But if that’s the case, I suppose it’ll just have to mean another giveaway ;).

So how’d I do? Pretty good right?


18 Jan

I’ve hit a milestone!

Not with number of posts or books read. But with the number of books on my Goodreads.


Seven hundred!

And I own the vast majority of them. Yikes!

On a similar note (and by similar, I mean, holy-bajesus-I-added-more), Friday was payday. So I went book shopping. Of course.

I got six eBooks: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders; The Terror; Figures in Silk; Straight Up and Dirty; History Lesson for Girls and a pre-order for Scarlett Fever. This is possibly the most varied and eclectic list of books ever to be purchased together, but they all make perfect sense as eBook purchases. My thinking was this: I read on the nook while traveling for the most part so I’ll need books that I can either a) be completely engrossed in and which will keep me engaged during a long trip, or b) allow me to pick them up and put them down at leisure without feeling like I need to completely re-read to remember the plot.

I also used a bevy of coupons today at the bookstore and got Wolf Hall, The Lightning Thief, Deadly Little Secret, A Reliable Wife, The Swan Thieves, and The Historian.

I’m so excited about my haul. Got a lot of things that have been on my wishlist for a while. Now to find a spot for them on the book shelves!

Loyalty Fail.

18 Sep

I’m broke.


Not to say my bank account is bleeding, but between paying grad school tuition (sidenote: Can I just say that it feels so gratifying and responsible that I’m paying cash for school?) and all the weddings and trips this year, my wallet hurts. I posted last week about the book buying binge I went on, but I’m slightly ashamed of myself. I don’t know if anyone else has this same compulsion (though I suspect most booksellers, present and former, do) but I am extremely loyal to one major book retailer over another. It’s probably no shock if you’ve clicked through book links on this site to know that I’m pretty fiercely devoted to Barnes & Noble over Borders. For a year and a half after college while I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, I worked full-time at my local B&N. So now, when I go to buy books, I automatically turn left from my office front doors towards the Barnes & Noble, instead of right towards Borders. They’re equidistant from my building but I’ve had a hard time walking through the front doors of Borders, feeling like I was committing a little bit of retail backstabbing. It makes some amount of sense: I can find my way around any B&N practically blindfolded and it makes it significantly easier when I know what I’m after in particular. I’m sure B&N appreciates my long-standing business — my Member card dates from well before I was an employee — and until recently, I’ve been happy to give them the vast majority of my book buying budget. The rare exceptions were when I lived in Dupont Circle and made a point of supporting my local small businesses by shopping (and paying full price) at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. I was happy to do it, mostly because a few of the local bookstores had been shutting their doors and this one I wasn’t ready to see disappear. And not just for their fantastic ampersand logo. And mimosa brunch.


Recently, I’ve been straying. My hard-and-fast rules about being a strict B&N customer are quickly falling by the wayside. It started when I went looking for Lisa Tucker’s The Promised World the week it was released. My local B&N hadn’t gotten their shipment of the book in yet, but Borders was well-stocked. While I was there, I signed up for their rewards program. Which is free. B&N’s is $25 a year which I will still pay for but I started receiving coupons in my email from Borders immediately. I’ve been back several times now, bought more then a few books in the last two weeks, and I’m feeling less and less guilty about it. My wallet is thanking me (though not really because I’m still buying) but its hard not to feel like I’m betraying B&N every time a Borders charge shows up on my bank statement.


Does anyone else out there feel particularly loyal to one book store over another?