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Five Minutes in a Book Store

August 11, 2014
A lot can happen in five minutes, even in a book store. (image via Wikimedia)

A lot can happen in five minutes, even in a book store. (image via Wikimedia)

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.

James Patterson- If he actually wrote all of his books, he wouldn't have had time to take this picture. (image via Wikimedia)

James Patterson- If he actually wrote all of his books, he wouldn’t have had time to take this picture. (image via Wikimedia)

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.”

“Why not?”

“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?

  1. novelfetish permalink

    I was at the bookstore on James Patterson day as well and I must admit that I had to fight the strong urge to karate kick his life-size cutout.

    • I didn’t know authors had life-size cut-outs. That’s good, but I’d rather these cut-outs be of authors who write their own books. Even though I’m not a James Patterson fan, I still felt the urge to have my picture taken next to the cut-out.

    • I am so pleased word press now has the function to like comments, so I can like your comment twice 🙂

  2. Your bookstore resembles the Barnes and Noble’s one near my house. I avoid going there. I use the public library. I quickly get all frustrated in the store, and then get even more frustrated trying to find my way out through the esccalators and the crowds.

    • One thing that I like about BM Booksellers is that they all seem to be arranged differently. Some have multi-levels; some don’t. My youngest daughter still loves the escalators. My oldest one is too cool for it now (but she’ll still read). I understand getting frustrated. Book stores were much smaller when I was a kid, and there was less stuff going on.

  3. I think it’s important to set boundaries, especially in regards to something which can mold minds like literature. For instance, disallowing ever reading anything by Suzanne Collins; or enjoying Chaucer in its original Middle English (“Whan that april with his shoures soote the droghte of march hath perced the root…”). As for brick-and-mortar stores, there might be a few around like museums in the next twenty years as reminders of how we all used to have to carry fifty pounds of books in each arm before Amazon revolutionized the literary world. (I am a huge fan of Amazon, although I do enjoy books on paper.)

  4. Oh no! Of all possible days for you to go into a book store, you pick the first ever B&M James Patterson day! Now THAT is irony. Hopefully there will not be another. But I’m terribly sorry that happened.

    • It was definitely one of those exasperating “You’ve got to be kidding me!” moments. I’m glad you understand. I’ve tried explaining James Patterson to a couple people, and they gave me “the look.” I know what “the look” means when I see it. I don’t want to be one of those people who gets “the look,” so I’ve stopped explaining James Patterson to people. Now I just write about him.

  5. You should have at least talked to the author. Been in that position. It’s lonely. If we don’t support each other, who will?

    Amazon is both my favorite vendor and my publisher. Very far from the devil and if they have their way, the price of ebooks will be substantially reduced which I like as an author and reader.

    As for James Patterson, he’s not on my “favorite author” list. He is, as you pointed out, a franchise, not an author. On the other hand, you have a daughter who reads — and that by itself is an achievement. So many don’t these days. I guess that one is personal. Only you and your kid know if you did the right thing. What do YOU think?

    • I would have (maybe) talked to the author if I had known what to say. Maybe I’ll write a template for that situation just in case it happens again.

      I think I made the right decision with the James Patterson book. It doesn’t help him if she reads his book without paying for it (unless it encourages the school library to buy more of his books, but that’s too complicated for me).

      I agree with you that Amazon isn’t the devil. I just thought it was an interesting comment.

      • A lot of people assume that all large corporations are evil. You can’t reason with them. They do not wish to be confused with facts because their minds are already made up.

  6. This is why I always go to independent book stores. When there’s a queue it’s for a good reason, the shop assistant always guesses correctly if it’s a gift and offers to wrap it and there’s NEVER a dodgy life size cut out of anyone.
    I do kinda think the lonely author could have been shown a little bit of love though.

  7. I understand putting a limit on your daughter’s browsing and allowing her to read whatever she wants from the library since you don’t have to sacrifice your own moral code and buy all the books she wants to read.
    But what’s wrong with talking to an author at a book signing or even looking at the book the author was there to promote? A person of firm will should be able to avoid purchasing a book even if the author looks sad and lonely.
    What I can’t understand is why you have such an aversion to going to B&M. This wasn’t fully explained. Is it because you are a published e-book author and therefore somehow look down upon those who are fortunate enough to suckle at the teat of the physical publishing industry? Is there something wrong with the smell of new books in the air? I actually find that there are fewer people in local bookstores than there used to be. And while the library is an amazing resource, I think that a true love of books should also but supplemented by purchasing your own to look at lovingly on your shelves, physically but also digital.
    And as for the Patterson debate, I plead the 5th on that monologue of hate.

  8. Dheric The Poet permalink

    I’m new to this whole blog thing. Please check out mine and give me your feedback…

  9. Elan Mudrow permalink

    It’s similar to “following” somebody on WordPress. I mean, why do it? You could just read your own stuff to yourself.

  10. Cindy P permalink

    First time I’ve visited you. I actually laughed out loud especially to the “don’t make eye contact”–I thought I was the only one. You remind me of myself and my neighbor and I feel for you in a funny weird kind of way. Look, I’m with you only I like bookstores because they are quiet and for the most part people leave me alone. Oddly, people think that because I write funny, I’m actually funny. Too much to live up to. Amazon totally rocks BTW. You do too—I’ll be back.

  11. I’m sorry about that poor author who you ignored, but at the same time I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing in your situation. Actually I remember a time I was wandering around the shopping centre and saw a book signing for a local author. There was no one there. I didn’t approach him at the time because I was scared and… I really wasn’t about to pay thirty dollars for a non-fiction book on South-East Queensland geography. I really don’t care that much for geography (at all). I could sympathise with the author, but I wasn’t about to buy his book solely out of pity either. I’m not sure if that’s wrong, but I still feel sad about it.

    • If I ever do a book signing (I’m not that that place yet), I might hire some fake book readers to hang around the table and make me look cool. I figure if writers can hire people to write fake positive reviews of their books (or just write the reviews themselves) then writers can hire a few fans to make them look good in public. That way, nobody at the store feels uncomfortable.

      • I wrote a real review of my book under my own name. Sad, but true. I wasn’t happy with the author notes I’d put on the back. I thought they were sappy and didn’t say what I mean — and yes, I wrote them, so what are you going to make of it.

        Then, oddly, years later, real reviews started to come in. Really good ones that made me question if they had read the book I wrote. I am not self-deluded. And I don’t sell a lot of books.

  12. I am about to make a HUGE confession….I ordered a set of James Patterson for our high school library. Much like the local drug dealers, I will do whatever it takes to keep the patrons interested. If they will read it….

    • I understand you need to get books that students will read, and I guess James Patterson’s co-authors do a good job with the YA books. Maybe you can have some kids remake new covers for the books and take James Patterson’s name off of them. Instead, the coauthor’s names can take up all the space. Then you can slide the new covers over the originals. Students could read the books without James Patterson getting the credit (but I guess he’d still get the money).

  13. “I write because I don’t like to talk”. Yes, yes, and yes. Sometimes I think that I am only able to hold down a “real job” because of the internet. If I had to talk to all of these people that I send emails to all day, you’d find me cowering in a closet by lunch.

    p.s. James Patterson is a cheating cheater. No one should be allowed to read his books.

    • “No one should be allowed to read his books.” A couple months ago, I wrote that his books should be banned, and nobody disagreed with me in the comments.

      Honestly, I didn’t mean that his books should really be banned, just that IF we banned books (which would be wrong, of course) we should ban James Patterson books.

  14. I know how you feel. I’ve skirted around a few book signings with my eyes looking everywhere but at the author. However, if that author had been me I would have been so grateful for the human contact. Good that you have a compassionate daughter – perhaps you should have sent her to chat to the author while you took a selfie of yourself with the James Patterson cut-out. Then, when your daughter proudly announced to the author, “That’s my Dad over there and he’s a writer too” the author might have been grateful to have had a lucky escape from the perceived Patterson fan…

    • You’re right! If I had been a quick thinker (which I’m not), I could have used the book signing to get my daughter away from the James Patterson table. It’s like one of those times somebody insults us and we don’t think of the comeback until two hours later. If only I could go back and do things differently.

  15. My sister who is also a writer agrees with you about James Patterson. Also, I always feel bad for those lonely local artists in the bookstore and I want to support them…but not enough to go buy a book.

    • Two writers in one family? I’m glad others feel the same way. Would she have talked to the lonely author? I probably should have. The more comments I read, the worse I feel. I guess I’m not obligated to buy the book if I talk to the writer, but it would seem kind of rude to the author false hope. Or maybe having a conversation would be enough to bring others up to the table so that even if I didn’t buy the book, there would be other potential customers still hanging around the table when I left. Maybe I’m overthinking this now.

  16. morgant2421 permalink

    Well, I guess my dad has always been more liberal when it comes to book. First time I got lost in the mall was when I was 7 years old and I was lost in the book/stationery store. When I realized I couldn’t find mom and dad I just went to the information desk and asked them to announce for my parents to come pick me up. But ya, I always have all the time I wanted to spend in the bookstores … as in, all the time I have until mom and dad said it’s time to go … then it’s time to go … no minutes or anything like that. Limitations on how much to spend is important though. But as soon as I started earning my own money, they don’t offer to buy stuff for me anymore and that’s just fair.

    • If you’re going to get lost in a mall, the book store is one of the best places to do it. If you want to be lost, you can sit and read in a secluded area. If you want to be found, you can go the information desk. I hope my daughters don’t figure that out.

  17. Denis Stirler permalink

    Reblogged this on Denis blogt!.

  18. Paul Worthington Books permalink

    As writers, we spend many lonely days and nights, turning out what we hope will be something another human being will enjoy. It’s a hard life. In some cases, anything, and I do mean anything, be it a little smile from a passing customer, or even a quick glance, will glow the heart of a lonely writer at a book signing not going well.

    I understand: it’s also hard to engage with a writer on an emotional low at a book signing. However, maybe that little smile would have been more than enough to push that writer through that rough patch and maybe would have given her the strength to get through her book signing with a big smile on her face.

    Writer’s write, but we talk, too.

    Tomorrow will be my first official post – you’re invited to come and share in the fun. Please feel free to spread the word, the more the merrier. Hope you can make it; it’ll be fun to talk.

    P.S. I’m so with you on the Patterson thing.

    • Good luck with your blog. The home page looks good.

      And in the meantime, I am writing a conversation template for the next book signing that I accidentally walk into.

  19. Tina Marie permalink

    Guess I should consider donating my James Patterson’s Alex Cross series to Goodwill, eh? Oh wait, I think that’s where I got the books in the first place… hehe… although I do like the Alex Cross character, no matter who actually wrote about him!

    • I think James Patterson actually wrote the Alex Cross books, but I haven’t looked at the covers closely enough to check for the co-author’s name.

  20. “I write because I don’t like to talk” – That’s funny to me.

  21. I HATE talking to people. Not the people. Just the talking part.

    And, speaking of Mr. Patterson, have you seen this?

    Can anyone translate this for me?

    • I hadn’t seen that, and now that I’ve read it, I’m not sure whether to thank you or get mad at you for posting it. Even if I had agreed with Patterson’s point (which I don’t), it was written in a really bizarre way.

      I’ve made up my mind. Thank you for posting it. I’m glad I read it. I’m not sure I can translate it, but I’m glad I read it.

      • I wanted to share my frustration. Don’t be mad! WHAT was his point, exactly? I’m sincerely baffled.

        • I think James Patterson was saying that if he was Jeff Bezos (which he isn’t), then he would give Hachette what Hachette wanted for the good of the readers. James Patterson is pro-Hachette and wishes Jeff Bezos were more pro-Hachette, but it doesn’t make sense for the guy who runs Amazon to be more pro-Hachette.

          That would be like me saying: “If I were James Patterson, I’d quit using co-authors and I’d write my own books, and I’d take my time with each one to make sure it’s good, and I’d do it in the best interest of the reader.” I don’t think James Patterson will do that.

          • Oh, THAT’S what all those strung together words meant? I mean, I might have guessed that based on common knowledge, but I was focusing on the words. Hence all I saw was “I, Jeff Bezos, use lots of big words. And I, Jeff Bezos, string them together in nonsensical patterns. And I, James Patterson, will one day rule the world. I mean Jeff Bezos.”

  22. Hi there, I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Congratulations! My post is here Kind regards, Marilyn

  23. To be honest, I think that both big-box booksellers and Amazon would have sold their souls to the devil (if they had souls) – they killed off the local bookstores where sometimes there was a line because the owner knew the majority of the customers.

  24. This is true. Books available at Library book sales are cheaper, sometimes a better selection and convenient – it’s not in a mall. It’s easier to park. Go to the bag sale of an annual/semi annual library sale. Books are $1.00 a bag. Show your daughter the books – best sellers. You should explain the reason the books are a dime a piece, is they are no good. They once sold for $20.00; now the library can’t give them way.
    Incidently, if you look carefully, you can find excellent books at library bag sales.

    • Excellent point! I forgot all about those and have to remember that. On that note, checking out college libraries are an incredible bonus as the faculty often have book recommendation lists.

  25. Hmm. Great post! I do agree, BM Bookstores are not my favorite adventure.

    I can also happily say, I have never – ever – read a James Patterson book. Admittedly, I did also have to remind myself of what exactly he “wrote”, which then reminds me why I wouldn’t do such a thing. He is a franchise, and his website makes my skin crawl. Yes, I went there.

    I also can say I agree to the “if the library is suffering the burden, I’m okay with it” parenting tactic, however – the timer in the bookstore…nope. My parents could and would lose me in a bookstore for HOURS (local, small, 5 aisle ones at that), and it was heaven to me. That’s like telling a kid you can only have 5 minutes in the pool.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  26. I hope my fiance never finds out about the timer rule! My mother was complaining last year during a family vacation, about my son taking too long in the bookstore, and my fiance told her he comes by it honestly because a couple months back he lost both of us in one. He spent over half an hour trying to round us up, and eventually wound up having us both paged. In my defense, it was my first time in one of the mammoth chain stores with the Starbucks and gift gallery (I work for a subsidiary of the company that supplies the high-end gift items to this particular book store chain, so I did spend a good chunk of time drooling over product I wish we carried) and I was like a kid in the proverbial candy store.
    As for James Patterson, I’ve only ever read the Alex Cross novels, and I do adore them, but I respect what you’re saying.

  27. Hmm, well I definitely think you should have gone with James Patterson over goofy girly kid books. I’m sure even if you don’t like them they have more substance than the book she originally picked out. haha!
    I don’t think it was wrong to avoid that book signing because it would have been a false representation of yourself. I like people to be genuine. I would be insulted and feel worse if someone just felt sorry for me and came up to by my book. Well…so I say but then again I’ve never tried to write/sell a book before. Maybe I would be happy to just sell anything if that was the case.
    Amazon is NOT the devil! I couldn’t find the author of Das Energi anywhere else! (underground hippie book) And you can find anything on there! it’s wonderful!
    BM booksellers will probably not exist in five years. 😦

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