Is your local indy bookstore a good one or not?
How do you know?
I went to two bookstores over the weekend, while I was on the road, that ended up clarifying this for me. I’ve seen the same types of things at other bookstores, both bad and good, but this trip solidified things for me.
The first was Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins. This was an excellent bookstore: while a lot of old chestnuts were on the shelves, I found myself picking up books that I’d never heard of and saying to myself, “You can’t get them all.” A lot of the shelf space was dedicated to books that were facing out. There were shelves and shelves of recommended reading, for each shelf category. There was an area for writers to give readings, do signings, etc. The atmosphere was like that of a coffee shop or a small-town library.
The second shall remain nameless; there are a thousand like it. The books were shoved so tightly on the shelves that I couldn’t get them out, in places. The books that were on the end caps didn’t look particularly interesting. The shelves were cheap, rickety, and old. The books toward the front were sale books ($2 hardcovers), lots of regional interest books, and thrillers that looked familiar even to me, who doesn’t really read them. No recommended reads; the feeling was, “Get as many books in here as you can, as cheaply as you can.”
Now, I bought books from both, but I won’t be going back to the second bookstore. I picked up a book on mushroom cookery there–something that I already knew I wanted. I got a headache from the lighting and sneezed a lot.
I found lots of books that I didn’t know I wanted at Old Firehouse Books. I felt comfortable and relaxed doing so.
My factors, in descending order of importance:
1) Discovery of new, interesting books.
2) Comfortable atmosphere.
3) Sense of community.
More books did not seem to be a factor. One of the excellent bookstores I visited, Wild Burro Bookstore, had a tiny selection. But I had to put dozens upon dozens of books back. And I talked to the owner for an hour 🙂
Is this reproduceable in online bookstores? Are there good online bookstores that weed out uninteresting, run-of-the-mill books, saving me the necessity of going numb looking for new stuff or constantly collecting recommendations?