Unchained & unplugged

So six weeks ago, my manager came up to me and said, “You like Neil Gaiman, right?” And I said, “Well.. yeah. Of course.” She said, “He’s coming to town. September 14.”

And when I picked myself back up off the floor, I pumped her for details. As it turns out, Neil Gaiman has inserted himself into the Unchained tour, an acoustic, dead-tree-loving storytelling tour that tramps about in a bus–you guessed it–telling stories.

It was wonderful. As a person who works for a corporate bookstore, hawking e-readers, I really relished the love these folks have for local, independent, BOOK stores. They embrace a philosophy that I myself tout when I’m off the clock: books shouldn’t run out of batteries.

I have really mixed feelings about e-readers and e-books. While I recognize that e-books are the equivalent of mp3s–that the format doesn’t really change the nature of the material–I still can’t bring myself to jump, one hundred percent, on board with the future. Maybe that makes me a Luddite, or a glutton for punishment–or a sadist for making my sweet, amazing, very tolerant fiance move boxes and boxes of books around. Be that as it may, I love books. I love how they feel and how they look on a shelf. I buy them like most women buy shoes, and for many of the same reasons. I rearrange them on my shelves for fun. And yeah, sometimes I just look at them. (Yes, I recognize that that is a little strange, but you know what? SHUT UP.)

So where’s the conflict, you ask? If you’re so gung-ho about books, keep buying books, right? I mean, whatever.

The first conflict is obvious: some authors are releasing straight to electronic, no dead tree version available. That’s fine–and it’s a great place for self-published and small-press authors to really shine. Those are the folks that don’t get shelf space at a place like my Big Corporate Bookstore (or really even an awesome independent bookstore). Good for them. High fives all around. But for authors like Lilith Saintcrow or Richard Kadrey, big names with big-six publishers, some of their stories–and even novels–are e-press only. So, I, as a ridiculously big fan of both of the aforementioned authors, am sort of left to twist in the wind. I’m not saying that publishers should stop doing that, because I’m sure they’re making a hell of a lot of money off of those $0.99 short stories and $2.99 novels. And that means the author is making money, too.

Which just so happens to be a brilliant segue to the next conflict: author contracts and royalties. Ask any author–especially the ones whose dead-tree publications are mass-market paperback only–and they’ll tell you, God, buy the e-book, please. Their cut is bigger, there’s less of a chance of a return, and no chance of a strip (which is another cringey rant altogether). And a lot of what I do, as an aspiring author, is directly related to what does the publishing author the most direct good.

I don’t like e-readers. I don’t like how they feel in my hands, and I don’t like how they make my eyes hurt. I don’t like that you have to charge a book. I don’t like that you could have technical difficulties with a book. They look shit on a shelf, and I can’t bloody well alphabetize to my own OCD pleasure. They’re actually worse for the environment, waste-wise, than books.

But you know what? I’m a sucker. I’ve got a Big Corporate E-Reader Application on my phone. I’ve downloaded short stories, and read them on there, and while I know it’s smaller than an actual e-reader, I still didn’t like it. But I wasn’t going to get the story anywhere else, and damn it, I wanted to give that author money in exchange for goods and services. I still don’t want an e-reader, even though the aforementioned sweet, loving victim-of-sadism fiance of mine wants me to get one so bad, I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if it’s a thing I’ll be able to bring myself to do anytime in the near future. Because I like bookstores, and I like libraries, and I will tell you this right now, people of the internet: the Corporate Hawking of E-Readers has led to a direct decline in purchasers returning to the bookstore. Because why the hell should they come back? Why should they buy your membership card and why the hell should they get in their car, drive two or ten or twenty miles to a bookstore that may or may not have the book they’re looking for, then maybe order it, or maybe go to another bookstore that may or may not have it, when they could sit in the comfort of their living room and push some buttons?

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? WELL, YOU’RE RIGHT. But the point is, some of us weirdos still like going to the bookstore, because maybe you don’t find the book you’re looking for, but you find something else. Or you talk to a human who reads the same things as you and she suggests if you like Brandon Sanderson, you might really dig Brent Weeks. Or Rachel Aaron. Or Ari Marmell. Or your love of Laurell K. Hamilton leads you to Kalayna Price and Kat Richardson and Seanan McGuire. Or Jim Butcher leads you to Rob Thurman and Chuck Wendig and John Hartness, or Laurie R. King leads you to Victoria Thompson and Charles Todd, or David Liss leads you to Jim Fergus leads you to Stef Penney leads you to Edward Rutherfurd leads you to Dan Simmons. I COULD DO THIS ALL DAY, PEOPLE.
You’re not going to get that from an Amazon recommendations list. You’re going to get that from a human, who’s read books, who, even though she hasn’t read all of those, she knows what the fuck she’s talking about because she loves books.

Straw-man rant over. The point is, I guess, that even as a total introvert, I’d rather get a book recommendation from a human.

The most important takeaway is this: SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORES (and your local authors/artists!). I know that it’s easier–and often cheaper–to shop at big places like Wal-Mart and Target and Books-A-Million, but that isn’t the lifeblood of the book industry. You go in there, and you’re not going to get a person who gives a damn about recommendations, or maybe even the bestseller list. You’re going to get someone who hates their job (and possibly their life) and isn’t really interested in anything other than fulfilling their job description, which probably stops at “put the book in their hand.” And that’s fine, I guess. But that sure as hell isn’t where book people work.

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