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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Buying Books? You Have Choices!

**Additions to my independent bookstore "Hall of Fame":

Women & Children First, Chicago, Illinois

Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Kentucky

Now Voyager, Provincetown, Massachusetts

Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

Many of you have probably heard by now of the Easter weekend “glitch” at Amazon.com that caused sales rankings to be dropped from thousands of books, by authors including James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, and E. Annie Proulx. The arbitrary (and, it now seems, reversed) classification of these titles as “adult” kept readers from searching for them, and therefore buying them, while books with graphic violence and heterosex were curiously not affected.

I’m not saying not to buy from a certain online bookseller (whose name originally belonged to an independent women’s bookstore in Minneapolis). But I was reminded of something useful: We do have choices in where we buy books.

(1) We can go to a local bookstore and browse. Many independent bookstores have unfortunately closed, but in Toronto we are still blessed with several: This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Glad Day Bookshop. Whenever I am in another city, I try to visit theirs: the Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago; Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C.; Left Bank Books in St. Louis. Independent bookstores focus on readers first, so if they don’t have the book you want on the shelf, they will special order it for you, usually any book in print.

(2) We can try the chain bookstores. Many of the staff are book lovers too, and happy to help by stocking the books customers want. You never know until you ask!

(3) We can shop online. Sure, everybody knows the biggest names but what about Powells.com? Powell's Books is independent, unionized, and in addition to all the new books you can buy elsewhere, has the widest selection of used and out-of-print titles. So you can buy your favorite author’s new book, and at the same time, pick up something she published years ago that you might miss otherwise.

And you don’t have to give them your credit card number; you can use PayPal. Other online booksellers specialize, like their “bricks and mortar” counterparts. BellaBooks.com, which sells Spinsters Ink and other titles, explicitly does not track or monitor any information about what their customers order.

Just remember what I, myself, had temporarily forgotten: You have choices. Exercise them, and enjoy!