And I Feel a Little Dirty Afterward

So, I went to Barnes and Noble this week. Twice.

I was lonely.

A friend had given David a gift card. I kept getting their constant, invasive e-mails that told me nothing of interest: buy a Nook, buy a Nook, and get a coupon for your Nook. I don't own a Nook, so seldom were there useful coupons for me.

But I needed a bookstore, a bona fide bookstore. I had trolled the thrift stores, come home with piles of books (some I might even read). I was full — but not content.

I like seeing what's new, what is coming up. I like to touch hardbacks, flip through softcovers, peer at the cover, look at the typeface. I like to be surprised: I want to exclaim: a new Vincenzi already? So that's what Mark Haddon's cover really looks like! I want to find a deal, whip out my coupon for the one I want, buy an extra paperback to leave in the car.  I want to participate.

Amazon is cool: great service, fantastic selection, incredible prices. I have gotten rather spoiled by Amazon: no matter what I order, it shows up nearly instantly, exactly what I ordered, well-packaged and well-priced. I'm not adverse to paying good money for a book. I just don't want to get soaked every time I want to read.

I also don't want to be bombarded with what the bookstore values when it doesn't match my values. And I don't value the Nook.

I love my e-reader. My Kindle (another name for a group of kittens: squee!) gives me Internet service when I want it and a book in my pocket whenever I desperately need fiction. But I also have a library of nine floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, nearly full. I have autographed copies of Good Omens, The Eyre Affair and His Excellency, George Washington (to name a few).  And that's where B&N loses me.

I want my bookstore to show me books, not make the Nook the first, biggest thing I have to squeeze past to get to the books. (I do love the keyring hole in it, though — not that I'd use it, but it is a neat design element, for some reason.) I want the book to be celebrated, not the identity of the store. I don't care if it's called Ham Sandwich: if the store gives me what I want, I will remember what/where/who it is and recommend it at every turn. I am loyal. (Ask Borders.)

Then there's the coupon structure. So, I bought a book for "30 percent off (members get 40 percent off)." I had a coupon for an additional 20 percent off a single item. I bought two books. Here's how the coupon was applied: 30 percent off the original price of the sale book, an additional 10 percent off the now-discounted amount of the sale book, then another 20 percent off that discounted price — of the sale book. And here I thought I was buying one book at 40 percent off and the other at 20 percent off. It was a difference of only a couple of bucks, but I felt just a little cheated.

David is a media guy who shops for music and movies. When he saw a Blu-Ray movie for $40, just a single Blu-Ray disc, his head nearly exploded and he refused to purchase it unless I insisted. (I didn't insist.)

I am all for supporting the merchant who brings you what you want. I have purchased books at absurd (to me) prices because it's what I wanted, the store had it and I wanted to keep them in business. Support the source, right?

And yet...

I just don't like the cluttered store with the e-book counter front and center, a collection of "classics" everyone will buy because they think they should read them, a selection of newly released and pop books people will buy, and overpriced movies. I always walk out of there feeling like B&N has taken advantage of me — and worse, with my permission.

Still, I am hungry for books. There are at least three titles I want right now (but must wait until one is actually published). I want to have a bookstore in town on which I can rely. Do I just "let it go" and try to not feel cheated when squeezing past the Nook counter at B&N (where there is no Marge Piercy, ever)? Do I travel 45 minutes into another state to an independent bookstore and pay full price, plus my time? I don't know. But for now, I will try to just relax, enjoy my new books and decide next week when I "simply must get that book." It's not a perfect world, but it's the best we can do.