As a reviewer and former publishing minion, I am inundated with books. It has literally been years since I’ve gone into a bookstore to see what’s new and exciting—mainly because my days of reading “for fun” are few and far between and, I’m actually an on-line shopping kind of girl.
Now that’s not to say that some of the books I review aren’t fun, but many of my friends and acquaintances think I live under a rock because I don’t have time to read mainstream or the blockbusting best-sellers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I’ve read the Stieg Larsson books or The Hunger Games. I actually bought the box set of Game of Thrones fantasizing that I could fit in a chapter or two each night. Given the heft of each volume, I should finish them just before my 80th birthday—and they’ll probably have to bury me with a copy of A Dance with Dragons.
But, I digress. Recently I was in the city with some time to kill so I stopped in at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. I’ve never agreed with B&N’s lax view on reading the books and magazines—isn’t that what libraries are for? I mean, who wants to buy a well-thumbed copy of Vogue or a book whose spine and cover are already broken or creased?
However, this visit was even more dismaying than usual. Not only were there chairs everywhere to encourage reading, but carts were scattered around with signs on them noting that when you’re done with the book or magazine to put it on the cart to be re-shelved... Again, library déjà vu.
The things I saw people do would’ve sent most self-respecting citizens slinking away in shame should they be caught doing it. Among other things, people were literally taking stacks of books and magazines, curling up on a chair and going to town like it was a Sunday morning in Mayberry. Things have gotten so bad with the freeloaders that the store actually had to put up signs that in violation of the fire code there’s no sitting on the floor—which of course people still did.
Even worse, people in the coffee shop had tons of magazines and after they licked their fingers to turn each page, dripped their non-fat-skinny-latte and dropped crumbs from their blueberry scone on it, they returned them to the conveniently-placed carts. Gross.
I think the saddest part of this whole thing is the disrespect for the authors who put in hundreds—maybe even thousands—of hours of their blood, sweat and tears to create a book that they depend on selling to make a living; and, people think nothing of it, but to treat it like it was created for their gratis entertainment. People need to put themselves in the author's shoes and wonder how they'd feel walking into a bookstore seeing people reading their book, only to have them toss it on a cart on their way to the magazine rack. Then of course there’s the lower tier of people who actually buy the book, read it in the comfort of their own home, and then return it to the store. Technically, these actions are totally acceptable--in a library.
I’m not so sure that B&N’s free-to-read policy is actually helping sales. If people are allowed to read entire books and magazines, then what’s the point in buying them? Further, the damage that is caused to these publications during their trial-run, limits their salability anyway.
I always wondered how the staff at chain stores could handle dealing with the rudeness and stupidity of the general public day in and day out, in addition to watching them arbitrarily trash the hard work and life-blood of another person.
Now that Borders is going out of business, the employees have decided to let the customers in on a few of their private thoughts. You can see a full list of rants at Entertainment Weekly: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/09/20/borders-employees-complaints/borders-never-told-you_510/ .
It would be nice to think that people will actually become more courteous and respectful when browsing in a bookstore, but that’s probably being a bit naïve. Rather than leaving carts everywhere, perhaps B&N should erect signs giving the location of the closest library.
I’ll even start New Yorkers off: 41st and 5th – you can’t miss it, it’s the huge building with the two lions guarding it. There’s even a Mid-Manhattan branch at 40th Street that boasts the largest circulating collections in New York. Feel free to browse and read to your heart’s content. If you like it enough to own it, then stop by your local bookstore and buy it.