Saturday, September 28, 2013

Grain of Sand

I bought the new Stephen King novel at Barnes & Noble on Tuesday evening. I walked from the old juke joint over to the Barnes-that-used-to-be-a-Borders and got the book for 30% off its list price of $30. I was on the fence for a little while about whether I wanted to get the book at Barnes & Noble for a substantial discount or whether I wanted to support the local indie shop and get it for full price at Indy Reads Books. I stopped buying CDs at Best Buy (and related discount-offering corporate chains) years ago, but I can’t seem to kick the habit of buying books at...I hate to say Barnes & Noble here, but Borders is gone, and they ain’t coming back, so I guess I’m sort of stuck. I suppose I could drive way the hell out to Trader’s Point and shop at Books-A-Million, but I don’t like to be reminded that it’s possible to be a corporate chain bookstore and suck more than Barnes & Noble. Also, the selection of literary magazines at Books-A-Million is Darwin-awful. So I guess what I am really trying to say is that my name is John, and I have a problem. I can’t stop buying books at the least-offensive chain bookstore in the metro area, simply because there is no indie alternative here in Indianapolis. If I want new Stephen King the day it comes out, I. Have. No. Choice.

And yes, the correct next question is, “Do you really need that new Stephen King book the day it comes out?” If I am so excited about said new book that I plan to sit down and start reading it that same day, first chance I get, then the answer to the question is yes. But I’m still working on Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2004, and earlier this week, on the Tuesday in question, I was awfully close to the end of a new book of stories by Tom Perrotta, as well as about halfway through a book of poems I had high hopes for, but which is turning out to be way less metaphorical than I was hoping it would be. I wanted to be through with the Tom Perrotta and the book of poems, and a few days further along in the Ebert, before I set my sights on the new Stephen King. So, in point of fact, the correct—realistic—answer to the question is no. I did not need that new Stephen King book the day it came out.

Does it matter that I have been buying new Stephen King the day it comes out since early 1996? It might matter a little bit, but only if that sentence were true—and it’s not. I’ve had some misses in there. I’m not entirely sure what all of them are, but I never bought a new Dark Tower book the day it came out. The Colorado Kid had been remaindered by the time I got around to ponying up the couple of bucks needed to bring that one into the fold. I picked up a copy of Black House at some point, but that was also years after it came out. But I’ve been there on release day for most of them—and I even used to put aside whatever else I was reading at the time, so that I could start that new Stephen King book that very night, after I was through writing for the day. I kept going on those other books I was reading instead of jumping right into Doctor Sleep because I do, in fact, have a problem: I can’t stop checking books out of the library, and I spent a whole lot of years after college spending time and money buying a whole lot of books that I was interested in at the time, but then never read, and am now no longer interested in.

So no, I wasn’t going to lose that set of steak knives if I didn’t get that copy of Doctor Sleep on Tuesday. And yet I had to go over there, had to get it that day, and had to get it for that 30% discount—a whopping $9 off; and while that ain’t nothing, I am certainly not in the position where that $9 is going to make or break me. (If I were in that kind of position, of course, I would not even be considering the options for buying a hardcover copy of the new Stephen King book. If I were in that kind of position, I would, at best, put it on hold at the library and wait my turn for a copy. The hold list was, I think, at 277 on Tuesday. It probably got to just over 300 for a short while, because it’s down to 272 now, and there are a couple dozen books waiting to be picked up.) So why not spend the extra money that I’m not really going to miss, and do the local indie bookstore a solid by waiting a few days for them to get it and then buying a copy from them?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question, folks; and it’s been bothering me since Tuesday. It bothers me every time I look over at the shelf and see the copy of that Stephen King book, the one I haven’t started reading yet, the one that I won’t start reading until I finish a book about growing up in Jersey City that I just started last night—two full days after I bought the Stephen King book that I just had to have. I have no problem making charitable contributions to non-profits that I find valuable. I usually spend between $100 and $200 every year on some combination of donations and subscriptions to literary magazines (which are a kind of donation)—and if I had really given this Doctor Sleep thing some serious thought, I would have thought of the extra $9 I would have spent on the new Stephen King as a donation of sorts to the local indie bookstore where I made the purchase.

(And actually, you know what? I completely forgot about Big Hat Books in Broad Ripple. Indy Reads Books and Bookmamas are the two stores I think of immediately when I think of local indie bookstores—but both of those places deal primarily in used books. Big Hat Books, on the other hand, sells mostly [or maybe only, I really don’t go in there often enough] new books. So does Book Corner, but that’s all the way down in Bloomington. Much as I like Broad Ripple, I just don’t get up there all that often. But we’re going to check out Open Streets on Sunday, and that will put us within striking distance of Big Hat...which means that I’m probably going to have to stop in just to see if they have it, and to see if they have any kind of discount on it. And while neither Big Hat Books nor Book Corner are non-profits, they are both local indie places that are deserving of support—and Indy Reads Books most certainly is a non-profit.)

The release of a new Stephen King book is the only time I even think of rushing out to the bookstore to get a new book right away. (Generally speaking, I’ve been trying to buy fewer books while I read some of the ones I have bought over the years and don’t really need or want anymore. When there is a new release that I want to read, I rely on the library. There is often a wait involved with that, especially if the book is very popular—but as I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty much always in the middle of at least one book, and usually two or three. It’s not at all off-putting to watch the hold queue and make time for a new book when my spot in the queue comes up.) And even someone as prolific as Stephen King rarely has more than two new books out in a year. Publishers have always been wary of putting out more than one book a year, even by the most popular authors; and it would stand to reason that, in this depressed book-buying economy, those publishers are at least as wary as they’ve always been about glutting the market with multiple books by the same author.

Part of the reason for writing this lengthy missive was the hope that I would feel chastened for yet again doing my part to perpetuate the corporate price wars over new bestsellers; and in that respect I believe that I have succeeded. I will be reminded of it every time I look at my copy of Doctor Sleep, and I am sure that it will be on my mind when the next Stephen King release date rolls around. I should have thought of all of this years ago—after all, it’s been years since I bought a new CD anywhere other than Luna, and that pattern change hasn’t resulted in any lasting damage. It’s a little bit easier to justify an extra couple of bucks for a new CD than upwards of ten bucks for a book—but, again, not starving here. (Joke will be on me, of course. Dude will retire now that he’s gone and written his first-ever sequel.)

The other part of the reason for writing this lengthy missive (and for including this non-sequitur of a final paragraph) is to get back into the swing of writing a lot of words in relatively short bursts of time. November is nearly upon me, and that means National Novel Writing Month, when you have to bang out close to 1700 words a day to stay on pace. I have not been anywhere close to that kind of output since, well...last November—and this is my third stab at writing about this admittedly first-world problem that has been bothering me for the last couple of days. I wandered around some of the main points in the first two drafts before I figured out what I really wanted to say—which was the part about being chastened—but ultimately got it out of my system. (And as for part two, this little piece clocks in at 1749 words and took me a little over an hour to write.)