Five Minutes in a Book Store
I don’t enjoy book stores as much as I used to. It’s not necessarily the book stores’ fault. I don’t like to go to a lot of places that I used to enjoy, like movie theaters and restaurants. That’s a lot of places for everything to be somebody else’s fault. I don’t want to come across as somebody who thinks he’s perfect while everybody else is stupid. I’m aware of my own flaws.
Anyway, I had a few dollars left on my Brick&Mortar Booksellers gift card from Christmas, so my youngest daughter and I made a Saturday trip to BM Booksellers after a bunch of errands. When we walked in, my daughter noticed a lonely author having a book signing in the middle of the store. From what I learned later, she was a local author who had written a historical novel about our city, and maybe some friends of hers had bought her book, but nobody showed up for the book signing, at least not while we were there.
“Why don’t you buy her book?” my daughter said. She likes to help people in need.
I grabbed her hand and yanked her past the bestsellers section, out of the lonely author’s view. I told my daughter what I tell her in the mall whenever we pass the kiosks: “Don’t make eye contact.”
“Why don’t you talk to her?” my daughter asked. “You’re a writer too.”
“I write because I don’t like to talk,” I said. Talking to another writer defeats the purpose of being a writer. I imagined the two of us authors, staring at each other uncomfortably at the book signing table. Even though I write a lot, I have a tough time coming up with the right words right away in conversations. I need time. When I visit a sick friend or family member in the hospital, I have to bring somebody who can talk with me. Otherwise, I stare blankly and make the hospital situation even worse. Nobody wants to be visited by the uncomfortable silent guy. I didn’t want to make the book signing worse for the unknown author, and I didn’t want to be in an uncomfortable situation, especially when I hadn’t planned on it.
“If you buy her book, she might buy one of yours,” my daughter suggested.
“My ebooks are only 99 cents, so I’d lose out,” I said, figuring the lonely author’s book would be $10-15. It was purely a business decision.
We steered clear of the book signing and found the kids/YA section, and I set the timer on my phone for five minutes. This might sound inhumane, putting a kid on a time limit when finding a book, but it’s for their own good. My family used to dread going to the book store/library with me because I’d wander the aisles for an hour before finally choosing a book. At some point, we decided to put me on a five-minute timer. It worked so well that my daughters use it. They use it voluntarily. I was kind of forced.
My daughter needed only three minutes and found me at the bargain shelves. My daughter’s book had a bunch of princesses and goddesses and flowers on it, and it was in our price range, so I nodded at her. Good job. While we snuck past the book signing table toward the cashier, my daughter stopped at a James Patterson display, a table with stacks of James Patterson YA novels. Next to it was a life-sized cardboard figure of James Patterson looking somewhat constipated. My daughter picked up a James Patterson hardcover and inspected the cover.
“I want to buy this instead,” she said.
“You can’t,” I said automatically. “We don’t buy James Patterson books.”
“Because… because… he doesn’t write his own books.”
“He has somebody else write them and then he puts his name on the cover.” I showed her how the name “James Patterson” was prominent on the cover, but the letters for the co-author’s name (I don’t remember who it was) were much smaller.
“So? I like these books.”
“You’ve read them?” I was horrified. How could this have happened? I’ve monitored my daughters’ computer usage, protected them from the vilest of images on the internet, and now my youngest has admitted to reading a James Patterson book. I didn’t know what to say.
“You didn’t… buy them, did you?” I asked.
“My library has them.” Her school’s library. I’d have to talk to her school about buying James Patterson books, I thought. They shouldn’t reward an author’s bad behavior by purchasing his books, but I’d probably come across as a prick if I complained. Of all the things for a parent to complain about, they’d think.
“If your library has it, you can read it,” I decided. Since the book would have already been purchased, the harm would have already been done, so there was no point in NOT reading a book that had already been purchased. Still, I thought, James Patterson, what a scam!
The BM Bookseller registers had only one cashier working, and there was a line. I couldn’t understand a line at the bookstore. All the cashier had to do was look smug and scan. What could be taking so long? If a customer was writing a check or had a stack of books, I could understand, but it looked from where I was standing like everybody had simple one-book transactions. I’m a good eavesdropper, so I tuned in to the conversation between the cashier and customer.
The cashier was trying to sell the customer a BM Booksellers membership card. If the customer paid a small upfront annual fee, then he (or she) could get a 10-20% discount on all purchases. I’m not going to discuss whether or not that’s a good idea (maybe another time), but the cashier was being assertive to a reluctant customer. I huffed. This was a bookstore, not a car dealership. The lady in front of me rolled her eyes, but I wasn’t sure if it was at me for huffing or at the cashier for pitching a membership card when there was a line at the register.
“This never happens when I buy books on Amazon,” I said.
“Amazon’s the devil,” the lady said, and turned her back on me while clutching her $30.00 hardcover book. To be fair, when she turned her back, she was facing the registers like the rest of us, so I didn’t take it as an insult. Context is very important in these kinds of social encounters.
When I got to the register a few minutes later, the cashier didn’t ask me if I wanted a membership. I almost felt slighted.
What do you think? Should I have bought my daughter the James Patterson book? Was I wrong to avoid the lonely book signing? Is putting a kid on a timer bad parenting? Is Amazon the devil? Is the BM Booksellers membership card a good deal? Will BM Booksellers even exist in five years?