Friday, September 05, 2008

Another trophy for Amazon.com

This is some sad, sad news: The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, SC is closing.

Words can barely express the role this store has played in my cultural life. Virtually every book I've purchased in the past 20 years has been from this place. Every time I've wanted a new book or given then them as gifts -- which means every Christmas, birthday, anniversary, baby shower, you name it -- the Happy Bookseller is the first place I've called.

I bought everything from them from War and Peace to The Anatomy of Melancholy to Clarissa to The Fuck-Up. I think I ordered the last one simply because I thought it would be fun to receive a call that it arrived.

For book lovers, the place is a dream. Well-stocked in every category -- not just the usual high and low fiction but all the smaller categories like criticism, history, poetry, drama and religion. You can tell a bookstore caters to broad and intelligent tastes if it has a strong poetry and criticism section.

The same goes for the people. I don't think I ever made a purchase there without having a discussion about it at the counter. The place is run by people who read a lot more than popular fiction, and they're always interested in what you buy and why. They love browsers. They love conversation.

The most interesting conversation you'll ever have with a clerk at B&N or Books-A-Million is whether you have one of their supersaver cards.

I once ordered a copy of Paradise Lost from a B&N and I was asked who it was by. Then I was asked if John Milton is a current author. This is the kind of depressing chat you would never have at The Happy Bookseller.

As we are now in the last half of 2008, perhaps I can be forgiven for hoping that the store had weathered the continuing onslaught from big chains and the Internet. Where other stores closed one by one -- and when I moved to Columbia 25 years ago you could find them all over the place -- the Happy Bookseller happily if no doubt wearily continued to keep the doors open. They trusted, as a lot of what are now called brick-and-mortar businesses continued to do, to believe that service and a personal touch and the genuine thrill of being around all those thousands of tomes would save the day, that there would still be enough regular customers who still liked doing business the old way.

I came to believe that every time I bought a book there was a vote for independence, against big business, and maybe a Luddite's reaction against the Internet.

It's some kind of statement on the times, I guess, that buying an actual product from an actual human being actually feels revolutionary.

My idea of a good Saturday has always involved stopping by the Happy Bookseller to get a book, stopping by Papa Jazz to get a CD, and stopping by the Nicleodeon to watch a movie.

I think those Saturdays are going to be pretty limited now. I hate myself every time I use iTunes.

I've used Amazon.com exactly three times in life and I guess I'll be using them more -- which I hate. Even with the savings, it's a weak substitute.

3 comments:

Toby said...

Rodney - I read your blog about your local happy bookseller closing down. What a sad, all-too-familiar story. But you don't HAVE to use Amazon. Go on line to an independent bookstore like McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Mi. They'll track down whatever you need either on line or by phone and send it to you with a smile and you'll still be "stickin' it to The Man!"
Your interest in rock music (much of the same stuff I like) and matters of religion and faith lead me to believe you might want to check out my book - The Gospel According to Rock. Go to www.booksandbridges.com and let me know what you think. Peace - Toby

Julie C. said...

Hey Rodney,

Or you can come on up to Greenville and go to The Open Book. It's independently owned, still in business after - well gosh, it's been around since I was a kid and I'm approaching the mid-30's mark...

I'm so sorry to hear about your fave bookstore closing. It's sad indeed. My fave bookstore was Bentley's Bookshop in downtown Greenville, a little place where you could buy new or used or signed or collectible... And it's been gone now for 2 years, I suppose. My dream job would be to own and run a little bohemian bookstore-cafe like the one I visited in Del Mar, CA years ago; hope it's still around!

Namaste,
Jules C.

RW said...

I love the Open Book. I used to patronize the place whenever I had a reason to be in Greenville. In fact, I always kind of associate it with Happy Bookseller because both stores are mentioned every morning on Radio Reader, which is brought to you by "the Happy Bookseller in Columbia, the Open Book in Greenville" and a few other places. Great place, hope it continues to prosper. I hope ALL independent bookstores continue to prosper, in part because the cards are so very stacked against them.