Tuesday, December 30, 2008

alone in the evening with a moleskin

The NYTimes ran an article yesterday about why you should feel guilty about buying used books on the internet. It’s the death of bookstores, some say, and deprives authors of their income.

I’m finding it hard to get on the moral high horse here. I’m afraid in these days when a new paperback can top $20, I travel the pre-read road. I appreciate the implications. But while I don’t go scavenging the woods for food, I do like frugality.

And recycling. I also buy used cars, bikes and clothing and don’t feel terrible about the engineers and fashion designers who aren’t cashing in. Re-selling means the original purchaser is recouping some of his outlay, part of which paid the retailer.

Of course writers should be rewarded for their work, just like teachers, nurses and home healthcare aides, but they also need to be realistic. And, as a poet who writes with little hope of publishing industry profit, I know most serious writers are in it for more than money. Many actually hope to enrich their readers. And we all do a lot of worthwhile reading for the price of an internet connection already.

I feel sorrier for the bookstores. Maybe booksellers should, like used car dealers, buy up all the used books for a pittance and re-sell them for more. Or maybe, like the mayor of beleagured Philadelphia, we should just close some libraries. You can read books for free there whether you paid your taxes or not!

My mother and sister visited for Christmas and the first thing I did was unload books on them (mom: Katherine Graham’s Personal History, Ben Bradlee’s A Good Life, Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shouting, Richard Slotkin’s Abe and the Civil War novel The Killer Angels; sister: Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss, Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha). This gave me great pleasure. I would have given them more but I was trying to find things they’d like, and I didn’t mind parting with. Also my sister gave me a book for Christmas that she’d just finished – Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. I was delighted, and unconscionably guiltless.

There isn’t much difference between giving books away and buying them for a dollar on the internet, or for $5 at a used bookstore for that matter, except that internet transactions, I presume from the NYT article, are taking place on a way larger scale. I believe it.


toniclark said...

I'll have to read that NYT article. I acquire books in all ways, including both independent bookstores and the Internet: new, used, borrowed, and bestowed. I believe in supporting the independents, but honestly, it's hard to justify at the level of personal budget. I just paid $20 plus tax for a book I could have bought online for under $10 with free shipping.

SarahJane said...

Hi Toni-
I also buy at regular and used bookstores when i'm stateside. Since I live abroad I do a lot of book buying online and the find it hard to buy something for $20 when I could have it for $2. I assume, more than anything, that the writer wants me to read his/her book.

Talia said...

Excellent, excellent points, Sarah!

Anonymous said...

i buy in all ways, too: except i only buy used in person--i've heard too many burn stories about used online. i'm fuddy that way. yes, fuddy (as in duddy). i asked for books this year, and i usually do--ones i know i'd feel too decadent to buy myself. all mine, asled for, save one, were small press books--oh, lordy. and, i bought books for my niece--she's devoted to this wicked phenom, so i bought her the other two in the series, and i bought my sisinlaw one, too. oh, lordy, the BOOKS! they're taking over my house--everyone's i s'pose. . . ;)

Liz said...

Sarah, I'm all for used books, and used everything...

By the way, have you seen this interview with the editor of juked? There is a comment in there that will warm the cockles of your heart, it did mine! ; )
Happy New year too.


SarahJane said...

i'm sure we're all booksluts.

liz - thanks for pointing out that interview! my cockles! my mussels! alive alive-o

but seriously, does the year have to end now?

happy new year all

toniclark said...

Most of the used books I've purchased online have arrived in like-new condition. Only once or twice have I been disappointed.

Yes, Sarah, the year must end so that there can be a January 20th!

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