Amazon Is Evil. Or, Why You Really Should Support Your Local Bookstore

A confession: before I started working at my local independent bookstore, I had no problem with Amazon. Cheap books mailed to my house? That’s AMAZING.

But the longer I work at the store, the more I’ve come to realize that what I once thought was a good thing — isn’t all competition? — is actually something incredibly harmful, especially for small, local bookstores. But also for the average reader.

I hear almost on a daily basis, when someone asks the price of a book, “But I can get it for $X [which is always less] on Amazon.” I used to smile and apologize, but lately my response has become more abrasive, something along the lines from “Yes, but by shopping there, you’re taking business away from us, and isn’t it important to have local businesses?” to “Amazon can offer you that book for $X because they buy up ALL THE STOCK. Which makes it more difficult for the rest of us to a) get the book and b) compete on prices.”

While the first answer is important (local bookstores are a good thing!), it’s the latter, really, that’s more harmful. Partially because it makes it difficult for small stores to get some books, but mostly because it gives Amazon a near-monopolistic advantage. Yes, Amazon has made books accessible to tons of readers, and books in people’s hands are always a good thing. And I do realize that stores like the one where I work may appear to some to be exclusive or even somewhat snobbish. (Then again, there’s always the library. That’s what I used when I couldn’t afford to buy books that I wanted to read. But that’s a different post.)

But letting Amazon — and the pursuit of cheap books — dominate the marketplace (they control more than a third of the book business in America) is a bad thing. See, they’re not a publishing house (not really — a sideline in self-published ebooks really doesn’t count). Rather, they’re a distributor of books. Their job is to put the books that are published in the hands of the readers who buy them. Their job is not to dictate the terms under which the publisher prices the books.

Which brings me to their disagreement with Hachette — a major publishing house, which publishes Little, Brown books, among many others. When Amazon raised the price and delayed deliveries on Hachette books, they were no longer playing the role of a distributor; they were using their position in the industry to strong-arm Hachette into agreeing to their terms. (They’ve even gone as far as to say — according to Michael Buckley that Hachette is not living up to their “standards”. ) That’s not what distributors do. And giving Amazon this kind of power is bad for everyone, not just Hachette. It’s bad because it’s never a good thing to allow distributors of books to get between authors and publishers and readers. Ask yourself how you feel when a library or a school bans a book. It’s the same principle: a middle man has gotten in the way of a book getting into the hands of a reader. And that’s exactly what Amazon is doing here.

Which is why — even though it’s time and gas and more expensive per book — you should buy books at your local bookstore (or check them out at the library!). Local stores would never presume to know better than the publishers how books should be priced, or say that they don’t want to carry certain titles. The policy at my store is this: if we don’t have it on our shelves (which is possible, since it’s a small store), we will get anything in for anyone, no questions asked.

And isn’t that what a bookstore is supposed to do?

Changes And Gender Issues

Or: What I Learned From KidlitCon 13.

I kind of have some unformed thoughts that I’d like to put into something Grand and Introspective, but I think it’s just going to end up being  a jumbled mess.

One of the questions that was brought up in the Middle Grade panel was reader ages and appropriateness, and since we’re really blogging for the gatekeepers, rather than the readers themselves, what we, as bloggers, can do to help with that. And the thing that I got out of it was this: ages for books are Not Helpful. Rather, content advisories are preferable. So: one of the simple changes is that I’m going to do away with the age range on the books. Instead, I’m going to (briefly, I hope) mention anything I think is worth bringing up (ie, anything “offensive” or just general content), the general “feel” of the book, and where I’d shelve it in the bookstore. And then let the reader decide the age.

I hope that helps.

Also: the thing I took away from Lee’s panel was that labeling posts — not broadly, but specifically — helps reader find posts better. And that my general categories — middle grade, YA, science fiction/fantasy — are not especially helpful. So, I’m going to try to be more specific in my labeling. Hopefully, that will help readers better be able to find books.

And: I think I’m going to start a monthly list feature. It was one of Jen Robinson and Sarah Stevenson’s suggestions in order to get blogging groove back. And it came up again in Lee’s session. I’m going to try to, once a month, come up with a list of books on some topic that I think are worthy.

Which brings me to gender issues.

The question I asked in the middle grade panel was this: I find that I have a very hard time selling a book with a cover like this

to the parents/grandparents of boys. And sometimes, even, the boys themselves (though not as much, since I don’t really interact with kids that often.) Likewise, I have problems selling books like this

to parents/grandparents of girls, though less so.

I know a lot of it is the way “we” as a society raise our boys. (Granted: I don’t have ANY experience with this, having 4 girls, but this is what I’ve observed.) We are much more comfortable, for many reasons, with our girls being Masculine than our boys being Feminine. But, what I’m really asking is not how to Solve This, but rather, what can I, as a blogger (and a mother of girls and a bookseller), do to help people the truth that every avid reader knows: a good story is a good story! I’m not sure I have answers, but I am thinking about it, which is more than I was before.

Other people have brought this up in better ways than I can. Shannon Hale, obviously (I didn’t dig through her blog to find a specific post, but she often blogs about gender issues), but also go check out what Charlotte and Anne Ursu have to say about the AASL panels this coming weekend.  Either way, it’s going to be an ongoing discussion, and one I hope I can add to.

Which is all one blogger/mom/bookseller can ask.

Five Reasons Why Reading YA Books Makes Me a Better Parent

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long, long time, ever since Kelly @ Stacked‘s post at Huffington Post titled “What Are Grown-ups Afraid of in YA Books?”  (I saw it via Liz B.) I kind of put my thoughts on the back burner until this week, when I was doing a Banned Books Week display and I got to thinking about what I read and why I read it, and what my kids read.

I don’t think I’m one of the adults that Kelly talks about, those who read YA to take it away from the kids. I read the books for work, yes, because someone has to weed out the good and the not-so-good, and someone has to be able to recommend to a grandparent a book that their Ranger’s Apprentice-loving grandson will like. But I also read it for personal enjoyment; I have found for years, and continue to find, that some of the best writing and storytelling out there is in the books written for elementary, middle, and high-school-age kids.

But, most importantly, as my oldest has graduated and is leaving, I have realized I am a better parent because I read a lot of middle grade/YA fiction.

Here’s why:

1. What I read helps me develop empathy, in general.  One of the things that has struck me most about Shannon Hale’s crusade against sexism has been a comment she made in a conversation we had over the Mortal Instruments movie. She said: “I always expect more from those in the arts — those who read or dive into stories — to have the capacity for more empathy.” So, so true. I dislike it when people ask me if I read MG and YA books to weed out ones for my kids. NO. Actually, if there was only one reason I could give a parent to read MG and YA book it would be this: the more you read, the more you will empathize with what your children experience. The same goes for reading books about and by people of color, or nationalities, or disabilities, or GLBTQ. The more you read, the more you can experience the world from differing perspectives. And in this age of widening divisions, any reason for more unity — especially with my own children — is a good one.

Which leads to:

2. It gets me in the head of my teenagers and their friends. One of the keys to empathy is understanding, which is why I value this. Especially when it comes to boys, since I don’t have any. It’s not always a comfortable place for me (no parent of a daughter wants to realize how much boys think about sex, I think), but I feel better not only for knowing on an intellectual level, but for having experienced a boy’s story through his own eyes and to realize that really, deep down, all anyone wants is to be accepted and liked. And that we’re all just humans going through this human experience together.

It also means that:

3. It helps me helps me keep a channel of communication open. Because my only “rule” for reading is that they talk to me when there’s something they don’t understand or are uncomfortable with, I’ve been able to have many conversations with them about lots and lots of issues, from dating and relationships to underage drinking and rape. I’ve been able to help my kids learn to think about characters and people, to put aside snap judgments and to look past those to find acceptance and understanding. In short, because we both read the same books, we’re able to talk about them more, and I’m able to help them find empathy, as well as see consequences to life decisions, both good and bad. But it’s not just the issues.

In addition:

4. It helps me share their interests and likes. This is not only because I know what they think is “cool”. (Though in our house it’s more nerdy/geeky that reigns supreme.) Because I read what they read, we’re able to share in the experience, fangirling over Hale (well, that’s just me, and they laugh at me) or Percy Jackson (I’m as excited as they are to see Rick Riordan); being excited in the anticipation of the next release, or thrilled at an author event at my bookstore. We have a common ground, my girls and I, and I think our relationship is stronger because of that.

But, perhaps this is the most important one:

5. It allows me to allow my kids space and allows them to make their own decisions and mistakes and shows me what NOT to do. I know this sounds pretty cliche and like something I should be doing anyway, but I’m not sure that this is a natural parenting choice. Most parents — myself included — want to protect their kids, want to make sure they are safe. But, in doing so, the kids aren’t allowed to grow and learn. And, after reading adventure after adventure where the kids are forced to make decisions and mistakes, I have learned that sometimes parents get in the way. And reading about all the missing moms, controlling moms, and flat-out bad moms, I have learned to trust that my daughters’ judgement, while invariably flawed, is valid and that her life is her own. I need to be there as a guide, but not as a controlling force.

So, there you have it. My thoughts. What are yours?

Beginning a Book Group (or Two)

For a while at work (well, since last summer, actually), I’ve been thinking that while we do a lot to get our “regular” audience into the store (upper-middle class, older, white people), we don’t do a whole lot for the younger crowd. (We actually do very little for the 18-30 somethings, but since I’m not really interested in them — yet — I’m not making that my problem.) We have a storytime for infant-preschool on Tuesday mornings, and the woman who does that is fabulous with them.

But for the elementary school/middle school bunch? Nothing.

So,  I’ve decided to start a book group — well, two, actually — for them. I was thinking on doing it one Saturday a month, trying it out for the summer months to see if it catches. And having one group for 3-5th graders and another for 6-8th. Parents would be allowed to come in the former, not in the latter. But aside from that, I’ve got no ideas.

So here is my plea, librarians: what do I do?? How do I go about picking a book? Leading a discussion?? And parents: what do you want to see in a bookgroup? Is  this even something I should be trying? This isn’t totally outside of my comfort zone, but I do feel a bit lost and can use some advice.

At the very least, help me with this: I have no idea what to call the book group. (The groups at the store all have names like “Classic Book Club” and “Longitude Book Club” and “Chick Lit Book Club” and all I have so far is “3-5th Grade Book Club” which works but isn’t terribly appealing.) Can you at least suggest a name?


Eight (!) Years (Plus a Giveaway!)

First: for the Americans out there, Happy Thanksgiving!! (For the Canadians, I’m sorry I missed your Thanksgiving. Know that I thought of you back in October.)

As of yesterday, I have been blogging at Book Nut for EIGHT years. I have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, I feel OLD and slightly out of date. With Twitter (which I use mainly to stalk celebrities *cough*NathanFillion*cough*) and Tumblr (yeah I have one, but I don’t use it) and video blogs (no, you don’t EVER want to see me do one of those) and everything else out there, I feel kind of like a dinosaur chugging away over her on the blog. I do know I’m a lot less involved in the community than I was a couple years ago, and I do regret that my life has gotten busy enough to the point where I can’t participate in everything that I would like to.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine life without my blog any more. Not just from a personal standpoint: I still mainly use my blog as a reference for everything I read (and yeah, I go back and read past reviews to remind myself sometimes). But, also for the sheer number of people I have met, authors I’ve interacted with, and the cool things — like the Cybils and KidlitCon and this awesome new venture called PopCircle (not to mention my very cool job at the bookstore) — I’ve been involved with over the years.

Because I am that sort of person, I thought it’d be fun to look at the numbers from my first year (2005, since I only blogged for two months in 2004) compared to this year (so far).

In 2005, I read:

14 Middle Grade books
11 YA sci-fi/fantasy books
11 Middle Grade sci-fi/fantasy books
3 YA books
20 Non-fiction books
19 Adult books
0 Graphic Novels
For a grand total of 78 books. (It took me until May 25, 2006 to read 100 total. I was so proud.)

And this year, I’ve read:
29 Middle Grade books
26 YA sci-fi/fantasy books
43 Middle Grade scie-fi/fantasy
18 YA books
16 Non-fiction books
24 Adult books
8 Graphic Novels
For a grand total of 164 books.

It’s interesting to see how much 8 years of blogging can change one’s reading habits. Some things are still the same: I read more MG than YA, I read more fantasy than regular. My adult and non-fiction haven’t changed. But the numbers have ticked up, mostly because, I think, I am no longer wandering the library/bookstore looking for the things that are good. I’ve got a whole reader full of bloggers I love and trust who point me in the direction of What’s Good, and because of that, I’m tossing fewer books back, and enjoying more books more. (The downside is that my TBR pile is always out of control.)

In short: eight years in, I’m extremely  happy that my husband encouraged me to start this little corner of the internet.

To thank you all for your part (and for being loyal readers, whether it’s been for all eight years — Amira! Is there anyone else? — or two months), I’m hosting a little giveaway: one book (of your choice), plus some assorted odds and ends I feel like throwing in  (candy, journal, pens, maybe a magnet or two) that I can find at Watermark Books. Just fill out the little form, and considered yourself entered. The giveaway will close December 1.

And now, I’m off to White Lotus for the weekend, to enjoy the amazing yoga retreat that my husband and friends gave me for my 40th birthday.


Boys and Author Events

In the past two weeks, I’ve gone to two different YA events at our bookstore.  (Sorry, no pictures. I forgot the camera both times.) The first one was with Brent Crawford and Rachel Hawkins, the second was with a first-time author, T. M. Goeglein. Both Crawford and Goeglein have books that guys should be reading (if they’re not), both are men (well, especially Crawford) who have made careers (and halfway decent ones, too) writing books for guys. And both were great (funny, intelligent, interesting) to listen to.

The problem?

No boys showed up. At either event.

Now, I kind of understand the first one: Rachel Hawkins was there, and she caters mostly to girls. But, I still have to wonder: where were the guys?

Maybe it’s just Wichita: the people who are more likely to come out to the store are older women mostly. And they’re the ones who are more likely to drag their kids and grandkids to an event. Maybe it was the time of the week: 7 p.m. on a Wednesday is a bit of a challenge, especially in a highly religious town like Wichita. Wednesday is Church Night. So, maybe if these events had been on a Saturday, things would have gone better.

But, I wonder: why is it that at two events where there are great male authors, why is it that not a single kid showed up.

And, I also wonder: how can we change that?


Sunday Salon: When Do You Give Up On an Author?

This is a thought born of many small interactions. First, was a Facebook post from a longtime blogger friend (who’s stopped blogging). She’s been an Orson Scott Card fan for years, and her bit about his latest book included this: disappointing.

Then Tom Wolfe’s latest, Back to Blood came out, and when I mentioned to Hubby that it did, he (a long-time fan) said that he really didn’t have much interest in it.

And finally, I’ve been torn about reading Casual Vacancy. Do I want to? I’ve heard both good and bad about it, but how much do I really like Rowling as an author? Enough to read everything she’s written?

Which got me to wondering: how long do you give an author you love before you bail on them? Is there someone you like enough to forgive even their worst books? And if they start churning out “bad” books (or at least ones that you don’t like), how long do you give them before you completely bail, and never pick up another book by them again?

I don’t have any answers. There’s actually very few authors (well, maybe not that few, and all of them are YA) whose entire work I have read. And of those, so far, I’m not inclined to bail on them. But there are some whose first book I loved and second I hated and I never bothered to pick up the third.

So, what about you?  How long do you give an author, especially one you’ve really loved in the past, before you say, “No more”?

Sunday Salon: Bestsellers

The New York Times Bestseller shelves at Watermark

I have had, for years, a terrible relationship with the New York Times Bestseller list. At one point in my reading life, I would slavishly follow the list, picking out ones from it to read, because — as the reasoning goes — if it’s on the NY Times list, then it must be good. Right?

But, invariably, I’d be disappointed. Seriously disappointed. I hated a good number of the books, and was turned off by the rest.

Sure, there was always exceptions, but the trick was to catch them early. I read Harry Potter first in 1999, before it got huge. The same for Percy Jackson (2005), Twilight (2007), and Hunger Games (2009). You’ll notice that they’re all middle grade and young adult novels, which probably has something to do with my enjoyment of them as well.

But, I’m more than halfway through Water for Elephants, which is up there on those shelves, and I’m loving it. Which is making me wonder: why do I really have this dislike of the Bestseller lists? What is the real source of my mistrust?

I have no answers. Do you? What’s your relationship to the bestseller lists?

Sunday Salon: My First Book Talk

So, I got a job three weeks ago. When K started kindergarten, I figured that while I love volunteering at the library, I’d also love to have something where I got paid. I’d rather not work too many hours a week, and I wanted something somewhere where I could be surrounded by things I enjoyed. That said, I beefed up a resume (I haven’t worked for money for 12 years!), and sent them out to a few places. One of which was our local independent bookstore, Watermark Books. I honestly didn’t think I’d hear back from them; it seems like no one ever leaves Watermark, and they don’t hire very often. And yet, I did. Which shocked me to no end.

The short version of all this was that the manager, Sarah Bagby, was impressed with my blogging and my bookish knowledge, and wanted me on her staff. (I almost fell over, I was so shell-shocked). And after working things out on her hand, hired me, part-time. She’s amazingly willing to work around my schedule, fitting me in for about 15 to 20 hours a week. And they’ve started throwing me things.

The latest of which was a book talk for about 7 preschool teachers. Which completely stressed me out, because I’ve. Never. Done. One. Before.

Thankfully, I have the wonderful kidlit community, and I turned to them for suggestions. I took the wonderful ideas given me by Jen (Jen Robinson’s Books), Abby(Abby the Librarian), Pam (MotherReader), Betsy (Fuse #8) and others, checked out about 50 books from the library and the store, and sat down to read with A and K. Actually, that was the best part about this whole experience. In the past two years, my delightful daughters have decided that they’d rather have chapter books read to them than sit down with several picture books. And so, I just haven’t had the opportunity to peruse what’s out there anymore. And, to be honest, while I love reading chapter books aloud to them, there is something to be said about snuggling up with your children and reading a good picture books.

I couldn’t select all the ones we read; not even all the ones we really liked. But I did narrow it down to our favorites that we were actually currently carrying in the store.

The actual talk part of it went well, I think. I talked too fast, probably — I tend to do that when I’m nervous — and I felt more comfortable talking about the middle grade and YA books I had selected (they wanted a few older books as well) than the picture books. But, I read a few, showed a lot of pictures, laughed with them, and basically had a good time. I was exhausted and shell-shocked afterward, but I did it. (And they all bought books afterward, too!)

So, what did I pitch to the teachers (they work with ages 2 1/2 to 6)?

The Lion and the Mouse
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Dinosaur vs. the Library
You Will Be My Friend!
Happy Pig Day!
Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five
Little White Rabbit
Where’s My T-R-U-C-K?
13 Words
Pride and Prejudice
Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl
Bink & Gollie
Ladder to the Moon
Grandpa Green

Out of these, the ones they liked the best were RRRalph, Where’s My T-R-U-C-K?, and the Pride and Prejudice board book. Hands down, though, everyone’s favorite (from my kids to Hubby to the teachers) was this one:

I Want My Hat Back

It was so hilarious that A and K insisted I read it over and over. And, thankfully, it stands up to that.
As for the older books, I talked up:
Because of Mr. Terupt
Guys Read: Funny Business
11 Birthdays
A Tale Dark and Grimm
Heist Society
The Name of the Star
Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Out of these, they bought A Tale Dark and Grimm, Guys Read: Thriller (I had told them about that one, but I didn’t pitch it because I haven’t read it), Leviathan and Heist Society (this one was for one of the teacher’s book group — “We’re actually a drinking group that reads” — for their December book. I think they’ll like it.)

All in all, a good experience, I think. I don’t know if I’m eager to do it again, though now that I’ve done it once, the next time shouldn’t be so bad. Right?