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September 25, 2009

Bookstores and Book Club Resources

Posted by webmaster
Today, contributor and bookseller Jamie Layton makes the case for shopping at independent bookstores. Reading groups will find all kinds of resources at their local bookshops, one of which is helpful and well-read staffers who can make suggestions for great discussion picks.

November 7 has been designated
National Bookstore Day to encourage people to stop by their favorite bookstore and do some holiday shopping (or treat yourself to some new page-turners). If you live in New York City, Indie Bookstore Week NYC will be taking place November 15-21, 2009, with special events happening at bookstores throughout the city. There will be details soon on their website.

Wow! Summer '09 has come and gone! I have to admit I went into the season S & N (scared and nervous). Everywhere you turned was the R word (recession), the F word (foreclosure) and the D word (down- as in 'they're down 50% from last year'). Our business, on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, thrives on summer visitors and while their annual vacation is the last thing most people cut out of a shrinking budget once they're here and ensconced in the beach house they'll tighten their belts in a lot of other ways --- eating out one night instead of the usual three or four; doing puzzles on a rainy day instead of hitting the boutiques; you get the picture. So I wasn't sure which column books were going to end up in --- N (necessity) or L (luxury).

I am very pleased to report that this little bookstore had a great summer and so far are enjoying a slammin' fall. My feeling that books should ALWAYS be a necessity was validated by loyal Duck's Cottage customers who apparently feel the same way.

There's just one pesky little habit we saw a lot more of this summer which sends me straight to the Indiebound soapbox. Let me present you with this scenario:

You're browsing in a lovely little independent bookstore. Their shelves are filled with a wide array of interesting, hand-picked titles; you've seen more than one that appeals to you! When a friendly bookseller approaches you to make sure you are finding everything you need do you:

A- Smile back and say 'yes, thank you' and continue browsing.
B- Make a selection or two, proceed to the register and pay for your books.
C- Ask for a pencil so you can write down the titles/authors/ISBNs of the books you're interested in so you can go home and 1- order them for your Kindle; 2- order them from an online retailer because they're a few bucks cheaper (before you add shipping); 3- head straight for the nearest chain store because you have a card that gets you a 20% discount or 4- add them to your library request list.

As you can imagine, I love A and B and C4 is fine too. However, the nice young lady who gave you the pencil (and probably a piece of paper too) has no clue why you're writing those titles down, but she does suspect what's happening. You're going to write down a bunch of books that you want to read, but will get somewhere else. You will hand your pencil in and leave without buying anything.

This is quite vexing to us small bookstores. What you are doing is perusing our carefully edited choices and using us to help make your selections and then bypassing us for your purchase. In doing this, you are not only helping push that indie store one step closer to the retail endangered species list but you are also enabling the chains and big box stores that have undermined the tenets and foundations of local commerce and small business.

Without us, there would be much less variety on the shelves of every bookstore --- local or chain. You see, small stores don't buy into every publishing fad and craze; we don't limit ourselves to any bestseller list or author. We are the force behind such books as Water for Elephants, the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year and a huge book club favorite. In fact, when accepting the award author Sara Gruen thanked independent bookstores profusely and was insistent that without them, Water for Elephants would have never reached bestseller status. And this is not the only title that indie booksellers helped to make famous.

At Duck's Cottage, like many independent bookstores, we have a ton of resources for book clubs. Along with hosting an in-store group, we have Jamie's Book Club, a bi-monthly "book of the month" club with subscribers across the country and a blog where readers can post comments and discuss the selections. And we love making reading recommendations --- undiscovered gems that might not necessarily be on your radar that will make for great discussions. I'm betting your local indie booksellers have many titles to suggest, too. All you have to do is ask.

Now, would you walk into your favorite local restaurant, cheerfully greet the owner, ask to see a menu, write down the ingredients of all your favorite dishes then go home and cook them yourself? I didn't think so. Please think about this the next time you start to ask for a pencil.

---Jamie Layton