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February 26, 2011

What changed
Posted by Patrick at 10:43 PM * 81 comments

Mark Bernstein guestblogs for the very distinguished James Fallows:

Lamentations for the bookstore are the background music of our time, but the picture is far more complex.

Bookstores and their discontents are at the center of Jo Walton’s stunning new novel, Among Others. It is the story of Morwenna Phelps, a Welsh girl who, having been crippled in a domestic accident in which her twin sister was killed and for which her mother may have been at fault, is sent to boarding school. She is very lonely, and finds refuge in reading. We hear about each book she reads and what she thinks of it. If you have read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, you’ll have read these books too. You and Morwenna can compare notes.

Morwenna has a terrible time getting books. She reads everything in the school library, she reads everything in her uncle’s study. On Saturdays, she’s allowed to walk into the village where she haunts the small library and the indifferent bookstore. Finding a new book by a favorite writer takes enormous time and effort.

That used to be the way books worked. If you lived in a great city, you might have a great bookseller and that was a fine thing indeed. In Fargo or Abercwmboi, where Morwenna grew up, things might be dicier. Even great booksellers have real limits: Stuart Brent built a fabled Chicago store around literary fiction, art books, and psychoanalytic texts, but if you were looking for differential geometry or electronic design, that wasn’t going to be much help.

Dan Chiasson reviews Keith Richards’ Life for the New York Review of Books:
Anyone reading this review can go to YouTube now and experience Muddy Waters, or Chuck Berry, or Buddy Holly, or the first Stones recordings, or anything else they want to see, instantly: ads for Freshen-up gum from the Eighties; a spot George Plimpton did for Intellivision, an early video game. Anything. I am not making an original point, but it cannot be reiterated enough: the experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity; and all the ways we regard things we want but cannot have, in those faraway days, stood between people and the art or music they needed to have: yearning, craving, imagining the absent object so fully that when the real thing appears in your hands, it almost doesn’t match up. Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records. The Rolling Stones do not happen in any other context: they were a band based on craving, impersonation, tribute: white guys from England who worshiped black blues and later, to a lesser extent, country, reggae, disco, and rap.

When the situation changed in part because the Stones changed it, and suddenly you could hear (and even meet and play with) Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley, the band lost its way. They depended, for their force, on a body-memory of those early cravings for music they knew only by rumor and innuendo. Other cravings, for drugs and fame, were not sufficient, and had much more dire downsides. The early Stones were in a constant huddle, dissecting blues songs in front of the speakers and playing them back for each other and then for their few fans. They thought of themselves, not even as a band, really, but as a way of distributing music the radio never played.

Comments on What changed:
#1 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2011, 11:04 PM:

Among the top hits of 1965...

3. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
6. Downtown, Petula Clark
7. Help!, The Beatles

#2 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2011, 11:45 PM:

I can't get no satisfaction downtown. Help.

#3 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 12:53 AM:

Honestly, the fact that culture is so much more widely distributed now than it used to be, thanks most recently to the Internet, is the only reason I no longer live in a rural hellhole and have any chance at happiness. So I'll pass on the nostalgia for a time when it was so much harder to find like-minded people, thanks.

I'll buy that all these works are products of their time, and that time is heavily marked by the scarcity of culture. But I don't want to live in that world any more, and I don't think you do either.

#4 ::: JDR ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 05:50 AM:

I grew up in rural Kansas in the 80s. That first text up there could very well have been about me, without the uncle's study. I started reading about 4 grades above my school level in 3rd grade and burned through my school library, then my town's library, by the time I was 12. Then? Well, the next bookstore was 30 minute's drive away, and they had about 4 linear feet of my particular brand (F/SF)...but when I was twelve, my parents seemed to have something against driving me to the next town over to go bookshopping with money we didn't have.

When I got to university, and met the internet and Amazon for the first time? It was like seeing the gates of heaven open before my very eyes.

It would take a novel to express my feelings about the Kindle store.

So yeah, I'll take any book I want, delivered anywhere in the world, over preserving a beloved business model. Sorry about that, booksellers. But thanks for all the good times...

#5 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 06:42 AM:

The adverts on Sleuth right now were for a male corset (Slim-T) and Henry Rifles (using modern technology to make "pieces of American history").

The Stones abide, even as their predecessors did. The separate question of whether (and how) you can monetize that means the old models change--the Stones perpetually do a Greatest Hits tour, having recorded two decent studio albums since 1980. They're now following the Grateful Dead model.

What model will the independent bookstores follow? Probably not one that will cover the cost of physical display space; Amazon's competitive advantage is that they can show pictures but ship from warehouses--commercial space is less expensive than retail space is.

The tradeoff is that stumbling across a W.S. Merwin collection when you came in for a Larry McMurtry book (or Jo Walton if you wanted David Foster Wallace) doesn't happen with Amazon's algorithm. But that's not going to be enough of itself until someone can find a way to make it so.

#6 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 08:18 AM:

Another survivor of being stranded way out in the butt end of nowhere with a pathetic school library. If it hadn't been for the Dover company, whose catalog somehow fell into my hands, I'd've really gone nuts. Dover introduced me to Stapledon.
If bookstores as I know them vanish, I might still do so. I am one of those that needs to browse in, and my hands need the variety of turning pages vs. using a mouse all the time, or some other device that I haven't tried yet and don't know if it would hurt my work-damaged hands even more.
Here in Seattle I am very fortunate to have 2 big independents to browse. And used-book places, of course, and 3 huge library systems. I count my blessings.

#7 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 08:19 AM:

...And "Downtown" remains one of my all-time favorites.

#8 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 08:34 AM:

Have you heard Glenn Gould's 1967 radio documentary, "The Search for Petula Clark"?

#9 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 09:37 AM:

Angiportus @ 7... Same here. By the way, for better and for worse things change and we can't go back, nor would we want to. Still, in 1965, Pop music was definitely less homogenized than today's and yes I feel like an old fart saying that.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 09:40 AM:

Kip W @ 8... I haven't. When Connie Willis was here to talk about "Blackout", I think she said that Clark's career started in the Tube during the Blitz.

#11 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 10:33 AM:

The basic paradox is that the universalization of opportunities to "consume" culture has severely changed the creation of culture.
We don't have incubators any more, but an abundance of one-hit wonders. From the Cavern to Athens, Georgia, and Seattle, back to the death of vaudeville and "no place to be bad anymore", glimmers of talent have less chance to mingle and mature before being hit with the megawatt spotlight.
I don't believe that it's a coincidence that the last "scene" to explode into fame, Seattle "grunge", was a few weeks before the web made the internet accessible to non-geeks. (The arguable exception is rap -- from the last demographics to get online . . . )

((disclaimer -- this is a gesture toward a thesis, not a detailed defense))

#12 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 10:47 AM:

*waves at Neil from Athens, Georgia*

(which, she just learned, has the highest poverty rate of any U.S. urban county)

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 11:30 AM:

My high school today does not have a library. The space, I am told, has been converted into two classrooms. There is something about that fact that leaves me coldly angry. In that library (or its predecessor, which became the staff room when the 'new' library opened in the two-storey classroom building that was erected while I was there) I burnt my way through a mass of Heinlein, Asimov and Zelazny, but also through Selvon, Naipaul, Hearne, Ismith Khan, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Capitalism and Slavery, The Black Jacobins, The Faber Book of Modern Verse, Eliot's Poems, Nettleford's Mirror, Mirror, and a host of other books that helped shape my intellectual development through my teens.

No one directed me to those books, I just found them and read them. Years later, in the lumber-room of my brain, they were there to my purpose.

A few years later, I found second-hand bookshops to be, in their own way, caverns of wonder and sources of both pleasure and enlightenment. I suspect that many of us here have had similar journeys and similar experiences.

#14 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 12:19 PM:

Fragano @13: In the Chicago public-school system today, we have a very odd extreme inequity. The 'reforming the schools' plan from the city that's been underway for several years (slightly predating, but now strongly influenced by, No Child Left Behind) involves taking underperforming schools, shutting them down, and reopening them with a new organization -- and every time they take one of our pre-existing Large High Schools down, the reopen it as several 'smaller schools' sharing the same building ... usually with a new total population of 70-80% of the former student body.

The results in the 'new' schools are mixed; a lot of them are charters with selective entry policies, or focussed on certain specific curricula.

Meanwhile, there are lots of schools out there that are Seriously Inadequate, that aren't getting any attention at all ... it's either shut down or leave alone.

In the region near the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, where my husband works, there are relatively new residential developments intended to house faculty and staff, to shorten commutes. Many of these residents have children, and all of them have a great respect for education -- but most do not have (or feel they do not have) the resources to pay for private school.

The neighborhood had, as of five years ago, one public grade school (that was formerly filled with residents of the nearby public housing; now much of the public housing has been emptied and rearranged, but the school is still entirely low-SES students) and one 'magnet school,' which was Chicago's previous longstanding plan for dealing with gifted students: a magnet 'pulls' students from the whole CPS system via merit-related tests.

The magnet had insufficient places to take all the profs' kids, even assuming they could do the test, and did not give priority to students living near the school. They just admitted the top X students taking their entrance exam, no matter where said students lived.

The profs were livid. They could NOT conSIDer putting their kids in the hellhole that was the ordinary school ... and refused to even contemplate rolling up their sleeves and pushing, as engaged parents, to get that school upgraded to their standards.

Instead they whined at the city until they opened another high-quality brand-new school in their neighborhood, this one tagged a 'community magnet' -- like a regular magnet, except that if you lived near it and met minimal standards, you were guaranteed admission. The rest of the seats will be filled as if it were a normal magnet.

The school the profs have written off has no library. The entire school contains two computers -- and one of them is running the administrative office. The roof leaks in multiple places. The heater conks out several times a winter. They had a broken window last year for over five months until they could get it fixed. Even the most dedicated, skilled teachers in the WORLD would get discouraged if forced to work in these conditions, with kids who don't get breakfast at home, whose parents are working multiple jobs and have no time to help with homework. Almost none of the students attending have the capability to turn in typed papers/schoolwork, because they have no computer or typewriter at home, and the local public library's 5 computers are fully reserved every single day, with much excess demand unmet. Etc.

Something is very wrong, but shining up the new schools and bragging about how well shutdowns work really isn't going to fix it, methinks.

#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Fragano... Elliott Mason... Why do I find myself thinking of people rearranging the deck's chairs while the Titanic is taking in water?

#16 ::: Tad Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 02:47 PM:

1) Chiasson's comparison of culture to calories is new to me, at any rate, and very intriguing. I'm inclined to think there is something right about the idea that we are shifting from scarcity to excess, and will need to moderate our habits of consumption in response.

At the same time, making good on the analogy is not so easy. We know enough about human evolution and human metabolism to know why we are built to want sugar and fat, why it is generally beneficial in conditions of scarcity, and why it is no longer beneficial in conditions of plenty. We also know enough about diabetes, heart-disease, and so on to understand the causality between excess consumption and bad health outcomes. And we can reproduce these outcomes in non-human animals.

In the case of culture, I can see a little bit of how the story goes about our desire for culture having originated in scarcity (on the veldt, there are no public libraries, etc.). It's no worse than most veldt-stories. But what I don't yet see is the causal story about how excess consumption in conditions of plenty leads to the cultural correlates of diabetes, heart-disease, etc. And I don't see how to validate it in animal models.

So for now it seems like a nice gesture towards a hypothesis, rather than a real hypothesis (much less one with confirmatory evidence). But interesting!

2) The death of bookstores. Here in Ithaca, NY, January brought news of the closing of our last independent bookstore, Buffalo Books. The owner wrote in sorrow that it simply could not stay afloat: the market simply wouldn't bear it.

Then a strange thing happened. One of the employees sent out a letter suggesting that not everything is determined by markets. He pointed out that NPR is a cultural resource that survives on the generosity of its listeners, and he challenged us to think of the independent bookstore along the same model.

So I wrote to him and said, Okay, I'm in: here's my pledge. He has since received pledges of over $150,000 from other Ithacans. The bookstore will probably stay open for now.

I don't know if this is a viable solution for another year or for another place. Ithaca is small, literate, and wealthy (not by American standards, but certainly by global ones). The experiment has the glamor of novelty, and next year it may not.

But I'm happy that we are trying the experiment. Maybe you can try it with your struggling local independent. For that matter, maybe you'd like to support Buffalo Books. I recently sent some money off to Madison, WI for a good cause. You could send some to Ithaca, NY for the same. To see if there is another model to be developed, that could preserve the local independent bookseller for the future.

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 02:53 PM:

Tad Brennan @16 -- the story of how too much culture leads to the bad outcomes is easily summarized: Gresham's Law. Bad money (discourse, theory, etc.) drives out good, in the popular exchange. Easy-to-understand is much more popular than hard-to-understand.

#18 ::: Tad Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 03:18 PM:

Tom @17:

Thanks, that explains *some* phenomena, but I think it speaks more to society-wide health than individual health.

Yes, at the societal level, reality TV may tend to crowd out Shakespeare, in Gresham-like ways. But Chiasson's analogy was about individual health.

About the individual, I know why consuming 2000 calories of high-quality nourishment *plus* 2000 calories of junk food leads to ill health. But why does consuming high-quality culture *plus* junk culture do harm? If I spend three hours reading Shakespeare every day in either case, why does watching an additional three hours of reality TV make me worse-off?

Conversely, in the caloric context, eating 2000 calories of junk food is not great for your health, but it is better than eating that *plus* the 2000 calories of high-quality nutrition. Mere additional quantity, even of good stuff, is deleterious. But in the cultural case, if I start with the three hours of junk TV, it's not clear that adding on an additional three hours of Shakespeare makes me worse off than not having it. Mere quantity does not seem to play the same role here.

This is all very flat-footed and literal of me, of course, but my point is just to ask: how does the comparison work, where does it illuminate, and where does it break down?

#19 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 03:45 PM:

Tad Brennan #18: If I spend three hours reading Shakespeare every day in either case, why does watching an additional three hours of reality TV make me worse-off?

Because "those are three hours you aren't gonna get back"♣! Food may be "bound" by supply and surfeit, but your data-diet is instead bound by time. (Including attention.)

how does the comparison work, where does it illuminate, and where does it break down?

I suspect it's like the "hydraulic model" for psychology -- pulled out of a hat, not very reliable, but it at least gives us a vocabulary for making distinctions and such.

#20 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 03:46 PM:

Petula Clark, from Wikipedia:

In October 1942, Clark made her radio debut while attending a BBC broadcast with her father, hoping to send a message to an uncle stationed overseas. During an air raid, the producer requested that someone perform to settle the jittery audience, and she volunteered a rendering of "Mighty Lak a Rose" to an enthusiastic response in the theatre. She then repeated her performance for the broadcast audience, launching a series of some 500 appearances in programmes designed to entertain the troops. In addition to radio work, Clark frequently toured the United Kingdom with fellow child performer Julie Andrews. Clark became known as "Britain's Shirley Temple", and she was considered a mascot by the British Army, whose troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they advanced into battle.
Huh. I liked her songs, but back in the 1960s very few wrote about the artists' biographies. Hers would have intrigued me.

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 04:34 PM:

linkmeister @ 20... Thanks for the correction, re Petula's debut. By the way, did you know that she did her own dubbing, in the French translation of her movies? Wondeful accent.

#22 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 11:53 PM:

Being still somewhat under spell of the Bill of Rights (qv) thread, I can't help thinking of Richard Kadrey (or maybe Sandman Slim) singing 'Downtown'.


#23 ::: Kaleberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 11:55 PM:

In the latter years of the Soviet bloc emigres often lamented their new lives in Free World. One women wrote soulfully about our consumer culture. She had bought a sweater in a department store, and was ready to call everyone she knew to tell them about her coup. Under Communism, it was quite an event finding a sweater in a department store and being able to pay for it in local currency. Then, she remembered, she was in the US of A where people buy sweaters in department stores every day. Her lament sounds awfully familiar lately.

That was the great thing about Napster. It wasn't the free music. Most people don't mind paying for music. It was the fact that one could find just about everything. You didn't have to troll used record stores for years hoping to luck out finding just the right album or single.

I remember hunting for used books that way, a store at a time. If you wanted to see a particular movie, you had to wait until some network decided to show it, and hope you would be up at that hour. If you wanted a back issue of a magazine, it could be a challenge, or a struggle with the microfilm reader at the library.

Think of it as cultural friction. Like DRM, it makes for a good business model, but otherwise it's just another obstacle to being creative.

Vannevar Bush had a dream, and now we are living it.


Amusingly, I was just thinking about an article I read 30 years ago on Pergolesi's Dog. Well, I just found it online and read it. The internet is wonderful. (Try Google Books link)

#24 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:06 AM:

Scarcity-value [which is to say, in some economic models, value itself]. That's what we're talking about. There's no need to daydream about having a cultural artefect, no need [assuming net access] to save up to buy a record or book, no reason to congratulate yourself on having discovered something rare and wonderful, because everything goes around all the time, and something else equally great will be along in a minute. Lots of good and bad sides to all of this, of course, but a loss of specialness is at the core of it: nothing in a world of over-abundance can be as special as it can be in a world of scarcity.

#25 ::: Jonathan Adams ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:57 AM:

Tad Brennan @ 16: A similar thing happened five years ago to Kepler's Books in Menlo Park (

I was there a few weeks ago, and it seemed to be doing alright. I was a tad worried, though; the amount of stock seemed lower than I'd remembered.

#26 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:59 AM:

Tom Whitmore@17: Shouldn't the literary version, "Bad literature drives out good", be "Grisham's Law"?

(Gresham's law is being kind of stretched here, made to mean something very different from what Gresham meant. The point of the original is that, if you've got some "bad" money, money you don't know if it will be worth anything tomorrow, you spend it as soon as you can, while it still has value; thus, it's the bad money that circulates. Good money is hoarded, it does not circulate. It's an explanation of rational behavior; whereas the cultural uses seem to be largely railing against mass taste (something I'm generally happy to participate in, don't get me wrong).)

#27 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 10:50 AM:

ddb #26: Actually, I think the food analogy makes more sense than the economic analogy here, largely because there's the "non-rational" temptation of junk food.

#28 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 10:55 AM:

David Harmon@27: I do think that's a better analogy, yes.

Then again, why people are surprised that cheap, easy, pleasant food drives out expensive, difficult, sometimes pleasant food puzzles me.

#29 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 01:32 PM:


I'd explain it, but first I've got to swing by McDonalds on my way to the four events I have scheduled today; otherwise there won't be time for lunch....

#30 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 02:50 PM:

ddb: I don't find much of what's available as fast food "pleasant". Which explains why I seldom buy it.

#31 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 03:18 PM:

Tom Whitmore@30: but let's not commit the "everybody is just like us" fallacy here, okay?

(I find Wendy's hamburgers superior to most $10 hamburgers; but there are generally better things at places with $10 hamburgers.)

#32 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 03:18 PM:

Cheap? Only because the externalities aren't taken into account. Easy? Again, because the externalities aren't taken into account.

And pleasant is subjective, but fast food is not pleasant to me, nor apparently to several other commenters.

#33 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 04:35 PM:

Lexica@32: Externalities on this cut both ways. Having to return to your home to eat is expensive sometimes too, in various ways (time, energy use, having to eat much later than you prefer). Certainly all externalities should be properly accounted for whenever we compare things.

Pleasant is indeed subjective, and you and Tom seem, based on sales figures for fast feed, to be in a small minority. You may feel smug about that if you wish, but you still need to bear it in mind when thinking about why other people behave as they do. (And I picked "pleasant" rather than something stronger specifically to emphasize that it's not trying to serve the artistic high end of food.)

#34 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 04:40 PM:

What, exactly, has been driven out? It seems to me that healthy and/or exotic food is easier to find than it used to be, not harder.

#35 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 05:13 PM:

So how long is it likely to be before Among Others is out in audio book?

#36 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 05:16 PM:

Ken Houghton @5: The tradeoff is that stumbling across a W.S. Merwin collection when you came in for a Larry McMurtry book (or Jo Walton if you wanted David Foster Wallace) doesn't happen with Amazon's algorithm. But that's not going to be enough of itself until someone can find a way to make it so.

The "people who bought this also bought" function is already there. Seems to me that it wouldn't be too hard to mutate that to "what's 'nearby' on the shelf." 'Course, you'd have to convince [Amazon] that this would be a worthwhile service to offer.

#37 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 05:57 PM:

Jacque #36: nearby on the... pallet? The organization of a bookstore, and especially a used-book store, depends heavily on the sensibilities of the Keepers of the Shelves. In the small scale, it often depends on what books have come in recently!

Amazon's "also bought" is something for a computer program to produce instead of that, because it's not actually handling the books....

#38 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 06:09 PM:

alex @24: nothing in a world of over-abundance can be as special as it can be in a world of scarcity.

But then, I wonder about the quality of the "specialness."

Tell me, which is better, a really good meal, in a day of okay meals, or an okay meal in a week of no meals? Me, personally, I don't miss not getting to eat for extended periods of time.

There is the risk of glut, of course, but—for example—I find that the way I watch TV has fundamentally changed since I went over to the Net. I still do the once-a-week dole-it-out-in-smidges style watching for stuff that's currently in first run. But, more and more, the stuff I'm finding I really enjoy is the stuff that I can settle down with for hours on end and get really immersed in*, more similarly to the way I get immersed in a good novel. Likewise, I rarely watch a whole movie all in one go, anymore. Usually I'll watch some, put it down and do something else while I think about it, watch some more, put it down, etc.

I actually find the prospect of having to sit through a whole movie all at once at the theatre to be a deterrent, these days. It just seems...arduous.

I suspect that one of the things that we will see happen in this era of abundance is that art will become more nuanced in how we experience it. I'm also wondering how long it will be before tv "series" break loose of the constraint of broadcast schedule and pickup. Maybe become a subscription thing, like magazines.

I wonder what the people who are kids today will tell their kids they miss about our current era.


*Frex, I'm currently working my way through Ugly Betty and I'm finding some of the episodes to be astonishingly good, on several axes. I find I miss a lot of detail and theme if I'm not able to focus on and get really well acquainted with a work.

#39 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 06:09 PM:

ddb: The externalities aren't time-limited. The ways in which the fast food (esp. mass market fast food) loads/skews the calories has hidden costs.

The moral of Supersize Me wasn't that he gained weight, but that his entire system was starting to fail.

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 06:50 PM:

ddb@31 -- I won't if you won't. I think I was pointing out you doing so, actually.

#41 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 07:20 PM:

Jacque @38: I find I miss a lot of detail and theme if I'm not able to focus on and get really well acquainted with a work.

Yes, exactly. I find that the best TV shows benefit from being watched on DVD or Netflix streaming or the like, in great gulps. The themes collect and amplify and echo. Whereas TV that's fun but a little shaky artistically is best enjoyed week to week so the tropes don't start to leap out at you in boldface italic capital letters. (BODY IN DUMPSTER! JERRY ORBACH WITTICISM! TRUCK DRIVER WHO ACTS LIKE HE TALKS TO HOMICIDE COPS EVERY DAY! GUNG GUNG!)

#42 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 08:31 PM:

Agreed. Being able to watch an episode or two of Buffy every day instead of every week with a summer gap really lets me follow the character arcs more closely. This season I tried to watch Castle on Hulu as each episode came out, but it's another one where shorter intervals between episodes works in its favor. Lost, though -- since episodes jumped all over the place and you didn't tend to stay with the same subgroup of characters two episodes in a row, it may have been okay with a gap. OTOH, anyone rewatched the final season in marathon style? Does it hang together better at the end?

#43 ::: Lyle Hopwood ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:10 PM:

I got lost somewhere. Where does Dan Chiasson compare culture to calories? Not in the Keith Richards book review, as far as I can see. Making Light is the first search term on Google that really combines his name with the two keywords.

#44 ::: Tad Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:21 PM:

Lyle @ 43:

Chiasson does not mention calories, but his observation has more often been made about calories than about culture:

"...the experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity..."

Given his contrast of earlier scarcity and current overabundance, I am pretty confident that he intends us to reflect on the parallels between food consumption and culture consumption. At any rate, I proceeded on the assumption that he was inviting his readers to explore that comparison. But you are right: he does not use the word "calories".

#45 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:28 PM:

David Harmon @19: those are three hours you aren't gonna get back

Actually, thinking about it more, I don't think time is the commodity at issue. Rather, it's social contact. TV (frex) satisfies a lot of the cravings that social interaction does, but without the concomitant increase in social skills and connectedness.

So, where eating junk food supplies calories without nutrition, and so undercuts physical health, "entertainment" without connection produces isolation and ill emotional health.

However, seems to me we've been through and are now out the other side: the second half of the twentieth century was marked by mass media, one-to-many. Consumers were encouraged to give over their time and attention in return for empty entertainment. With the dawning of the internet age, we now have many-to-many, and it's nearly as easy to be the artist as it is to be the audience. Whole new communities, kinds of communities, and even new artforms are springing up.

I think we're moving from the "supermarket" and "fast food" mode into the "farmers market," "locavore" mode, now, except that in this case, "local" can be anywhere on Earth that's connected.

It's less about economy now and more about ecology.

#46 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:36 PM:

David Harmon @37: nearby on the... pallet?

Well, I was thinking nearby on the shelf (in the case of fiction, anyway). Which would be easy enough to automate as nearby in the alphabet.

depends heavily on the sensibilities of the Keepers of the Shelves.

This would be a little tricky, but I bet it would an intrepid app designer could make short work of it. Maybe find a way for individual booksellers to code their sorting scheme, and then have an app that would offer up different schemes. You find one you like that produces satisfying results, and bookmark it, or something. (Betcha money somebody out there already has something like this in the works—I'm rarely that original when it comes to stuff like this. Whether or not it would be simple/cheap enough to actually usefully implement is another story.)

In the small scale, it often depends on what books have come in recently!

This one would be a little easier to simulate, just sort on the date an item was added to the catalog, and maybe refine by category or something.

#47 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:45 PM:

Jacque #45: Rather, it's social contact. TV (frex) satisfies a lot of the cravings that social interaction does, but without the concomitant increase in social skills and connectedness.

I think you're on to something here, but say, rather, "without the concomitant challenge to social skills and connectedness". It's the challenge that's (sometimes) aversive, but it's needed to train skills and other social functions.

#48 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 09:50 PM:

JM & Janet Brennan Croft: What I'm really looking forward to is works done with this style of viewing in mind. I think we're finally moving into an era when a screen adaption of (for example) the Vorkosigan series could actually have a shot at doing the original justice.

Can you imagine: a few seasons rather than a half-dozen measley movies? ::SWOON::

#49 ::: Lyle Hopwood ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 10:17 PM:

Tad @44

Thanks for the reply. I just didn't see where Chisasson compared junk calories with junk culture. He didn't. But you did. That's cool. Everyone has a metaphor. That leaves us with your question:

[H]ow does the comparison work, where does it illuminate, and where does it break down?

#50 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 02:08 AM:

Janet Brennan Croft @ 42: "Being able to watch an episode or two of Buffy every day instead of every week with a summer gap really lets me follow the character arcs more closely."

I think there's a flip side to that as well: despite loving Buffy immensely when I watched it on DVD, I never really understood the fandom of it. While I appreciated the richness and the drama and the etc., it never really made me want to go online and gush about it with others, or write fanfic, or speculate endlessly about this or that. And I think a big part of that is because I was never caught in a state of wanting, desperately, to see what happens next and been frustrated in that. There always was more, until it was finished. It wasn't part of the texture of my life for seven years. The things that I gush about, that I want to speculate about endlessly, those are the shows that are ongoing, that are still open-ended. There's more time between the episodes, more space between the texts, for that rich, multifaceted intertextual stuff to flourish.

#51 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 04:00 AM:

Terry @39

One of the pluses of the industrial fast-food industry is that it is consistent. Not a good habit, but if you're in a strange place, you have a pretty good idea of what you're getting. The British staple of Fish and Chips is a bit less predictable, but there's a sign up in the local chippy suggesting that the product is healthier than some of the industrial alternatives.

(10% fat for fish and chips, 15% fat for a typical burger, but the website I found didn't specify whether they counted the bread. And it's still a huge amount of fat. And around 200 calories less than a Big Mac meal.)

#52 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 08:33 AM:

Elliott Mason #14, Serge #15: I suspect that, if asked, I'd be told that a library was a 'frill' or a 'luxury'. The long-term effect of abandoning the intellectual development of the young, what does that matter?

#53 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 09:34 AM:

On the consumption thing: This is a topic of discussion in, among lots of other places, the roleplaying game world, where widespread acceptance of PDF-formatted documents has made it possible to get all kind of long-out-of-print work back into print and for sale or free distribution. There are lots of responses to this relatively new rush of availability, but a very common one - certainly I've had it myself - is to go through a bout of buying more than you're ever going to get much enjoyment out of and then feeling glutted and dissatisfied.

I like the insight that a lot of us need to learn to suppress the binging impulse. Lots of us have learned to jump at opportunities because who knows when you're going to get another chance? Whether it's a roleplaying game of the early '90s or a paperback original novel of the mid '70s or an album from somewhere in between, there are so many things we'd probably never see again after their original run, and if we saw them once again later, we could count on it being unlikely that we'd ever get the second chance. So we'd jump at acquisition.

But there are many neat things out there that we don't have to jump at. The skill of recognizing the rare and wanted thing and snatching it up fast just isn't so crucial, for lots of wanted things, anymore. Now it's important to balance it against the prudential ability to tell yourself that you should think it over, check to make sure you don't already have it, think about the size of your existing reading (and other uses) queues and where it'd fit in them, and like that. This takes practice like any other kind of skill, and it's not so fun in itself, but (for some of us at least) it leads to much improved satisfaction in the long haul.

About the state of libraries I have many fewer happy things to say, alas.

#54 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 09:40 AM:

David Harmon@37, Jacque@46: Certainly the various ways you run into books while browsing electronically (esp. on Amazon, the one I know best) are different from the ways you run into books on shelves. They're also less accidental.

But I'm not at all convinced they're inherently less good.

Starting at the beginning -- the most important way I ran into other books on the shelves was books by the same author. (This one is very often forgotten, or at least omitted, and I wanted to put it back into the discourse.) Amazon already does that, shows you other books by that author; and makes it very easy, by clicking on an author link, to see all of them.

After that it's by genre (many libraries segregate the SF; perhaps to limit the spread of SF cooties?). That one Amazon doesn't seem to do well (except as a by-product of "other customers who bought x also bought y").

And after THAT, it's random; stuff just happens to catch my eye (possibly while scanning over large areas of shelves). (This is more a used bookstore thing.) Sometimes new arrivals are grouped by what collection they came out of, so they represent clumps of interest of the previous owner. The OCWBXABY function also covers that to some extent, exposing you to associations made by other customers.

It'd be perfectly easy to present large sets of random books to the browser -- but I don't think most of them would want it. As an optional add-on, click to get it, it's at worst a minor expense, though. An online store could add it.

I think the relationships modeled in various online catalogs I've looked at are as valid as the ones modeled by physical shelving in stores. Some of them are clearly more interesting to me. (Another thing Amazon does is encourage people to make lists, and show those lists on some pages that seem relevant; this is yet another way of exposing you to other people's associations.)

#55 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 10:37 AM:

ddb @ 54: The problem isn't the algorithm, it's the bandwidth. Amazon probably has a better chance of putting the right book in my face, but that chance is still pretty low. So near-random browsing is still required, and it's vastly slower and less pleasant than in a store. I can quickly scan hundreds of books in the store looking for something that catches my eye for some inchoate reason.

I tend to spread out same-author and same-genre purchases, so those don't help me either.

I'm not saying online shopping is worse in any objective way, but it's enough less satisfactory for me that I almost never do it unless I need a book for work, or have failed to find a book in several stores.

#56 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 11:02 AM:

Without online shopping, I wouldn't have been able to assemble the specialised parts of my library. However it lacks a proper and useful browse facility, so I only go there for specific items.

#57 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 11:24 AM:

Fragano (52): Far from being a "frill", professionally staffed school libraries have been found to have a positive impact on student achievement. But I'm sure you knew that.

Bruce Baugh (53): That's one reason I have far more fabric than I'll ever use: it's still true that if you don't buy a particular fabric when you see it, it may never be available again. (Says the woman who just blew her budget buying oodles of fur fabric and quilting cotton.)

ddb (54): many libraries segregate the SF; perhaps to limit the spread of SF cooties?

No, for the same reason bookstores do it: to make it easier for browsers to find what they might be interested in. Other genres are usually separated out also, and in larger libraries, short stories.

#58 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 12:02 PM:

Bruce Baugh @53 & Mary Aileen @57: Looks like it's time to post this again! :-)

#59 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 12:06 PM:

Jacque: :)

#60 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 12:37 PM:

TimWalters@55: Whereas the need to randomly scan hundreds (or thousands) of books on shelves to find anything interesting is why I never really got the used bookstore compulsion so many of us have. It's boring, and has far too low a success rate. (I think people need to have access to a decent used bookstore when they have no money and no books and are just discovering SF, or whatever it is for them; then they have a lot of good experiences early on. I had no used bookstores available at that phase of my life.)

guthrie@56: I find the browsing ability online more useful than what I can do in stores. I have more control over the associations that bring a book into view, so I have a much better chance of finding something I like.

#61 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 03:15 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 53:

I think the impulse to grab something because it might not be there later comes from exactly the same urge that makes fast food so dangerous to many people: it's part of an evolved set of behavior for dealing with the feast or famine nature of a hunting/gathering lifestyle. What is clearly a fit strategy for living in the trees or on the plains is counter-productive for living in the cities, and it colors all our other behaviors as well. Something we'll need to deal with if we ever create a post-scarcity economy.

#62 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 04:08 PM:

Tim Walters @ 55: I have a similar reaction, and I think that to me it's a question of different modes. Online search for things-to-buy is, as a rule, humdrum, pushy, buggy, and a chore, where not outright hostile. Amazon's interface is better and has far more side-benefits than most such things, but it's still squarely within an unattractively functional category: Work. Browsing physical bookshops is relaxing, flexible, and often a sensual and/or social pleasure. I seldom return to shops where such is not the case.

A part of my life expended versus a part of my life enjoyed is a very significant difference indeed. Amazon is a splendid adjunct to physical bookshops; given my tastes, it's an awfully second-rate substitute. It would take really high-end and multiply-dimensioned VR, of an order I may never live to see, to change that.

#63 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 04:27 PM:

ddb @ 60: Whereas the need to randomly scan hundreds (or thousands) of books on shelves to find anything interesting is why I never really got the used bookstore compulsion so many of us have. It's boring, and has far too low a success rate.

I think I've mentioned my epiphany here before, when I discovered mainstream literary fiction by being stuck in a bookstore with no SF, and desperate for something to read. Ever since then, I've been unwilling to stick too closely to what I think I know, for fear of getting stuck in another local maximum. And it's worked out well in practice as well as in principle; I discovered many of my favorite books just because they were sitting in the clearance section looking interesting.

I don't think there's any recommendation algorithm that would get me to Lions, Harts and Leaping Does by J.F. Powers--I'm not a Catholic, and I don't read Catholic fiction, whatever that is--but I plucked it out of the pile at semi-random, and it's gobsmackingly brilliant. On the other hand, I recently read Jerusalem Poker by Edward Whittemore, which I'd been meaning to check out for years, and it was a total whiff.

Just anecdata, of course, and I'm sure the new paradigm will have its own delights. It's good for letting you know that author X has a new book out, for example. But the idea of a perfectly tailed recommendation engine creeps me out more than it excites me. (Bad ones, like Netflix's, just amuse me.)

#64 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 04:33 PM:

In my #62, "tailed" should be "tailored." And, what Gray Woodland said. Browsing in bookstores is the opposite of boring for me. "I'll just be a couple of hours, honey."

#65 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 05:09 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 57 on why libraries segregate SF: for the same reason bookstores do it: to make it easier for browsers to find what they might be interested in. Other genres are usually separated out also, and in larger libraries, short stories.

When the Oakland Library rearranged a few years back and put in a "New Books Hot Picks" section* they tried, for a brief (very brief) time, shelving the fiction on the Hot Picks shelves by author's name, without regard to genre. Their idea, as they explained, was to help people discover books, authors, and even genres they might not otherwise consider.

Apparently some of the more outspoken library patrons made it clear fairly quickly that they didn't want to be bothered with this "expanding one's horizons" twaddle, and the people shelving books would kindly return to segregating SF from mysteries from romance from anything else — and pronto!

*I haven't yet been able to determine what makes one new book a "Hot Pick" and one not. Especially when the same title appears on both shelves, as happens with some frequency.

#66 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 05:19 PM:

Browsing in bookstores

Ugh. Makes my legs hurt just thinking about it. I never have had enough money for impulse buys to be an unqualified joy. My "to read" pile is eternally overflowing, especially since I've gotten too lazy/time-crunched to read much.*

So I almost never go to a bookstore unless I'm looking for something specific, and online is infinitely more likely to carry it than bricks-and-mortar.***

Yes, yes, I know: I'm a philistine and a heretic.


* Can't do artwork while I'm reading, so I get fidgety. Enough easily available on netTV now to keep me entertained while I draw. Unless it's really good,** reading has become more of a chore than a pleasure, lately.

** And finding stuff that's good enough to qualify is its own insupportable overhead.

*** And even then I wind up reading only about 5% of what I buy, so it becomes a storage/clutter/housework issue.

#67 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 09:26 PM:

The library where I lived in Texas didn't segregate books by genre, but they did put tags on them to identify the genre. I think the catalog might make it easier to find all the SF books, but as I rarely used the catalog (walk in, wander up and down, check the new books, stick my head into the back room...)

#68 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2011, 09:34 PM:

P J Evans (67): Interfiling all the fiction (preferably with the use of genre labels, as you say) works best in a smallish library. My library recently decided to put short story stickers on collections/anthologies; we had discussed making a separate section but decided that that would get too complicated.

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 12:32 AM:

I have always found associational searching a pleasure. One of the things I can do in a store, be it new/used which I can't do online is see all of a genre in the stock.

Since I spent a lot of time in various sections of non-fic and cookery, there's not much the online recommendations really do for me, because there are so many books I want to look at; and it often takes being able to crack them and take a look at how they feel.

Of course, I also sold books from the age of 13 to the age of... 21-22 in both the family store, and a big chain (B. Dalton's).

#70 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 09:48 AM:

I am starting to feel like there's a very slow prairie fire behind me.

There are two types of books I buy: those I know I want when I see them, and those I don't know I want YET. Amazon isn't a place I can really find either category. (To clarify that first category: even if I know that there's a new Miles Vorkosigan book out, I don't know that there was a new Joe Abercrombie book out until I am already in the store. For the second category... "World Fire", by Stephen Pyne, is my example. Saw it in the library, picked it up, 40 pages later started walking again.)

The independent bookstores, by me, have one by one given up the ghost. It's been going on for 20 years and

Borders just shut down their store by me. [I do hope their bankruptcy doesn't hurt Tor too badly.]

Am I in real danger of running out of places to find books?

#71 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 02:02 PM:

Sandy B.

How often do you read book reviews? I feel the same way as you about book-buying (and am lucky to have a good English language bookshop reasonably easily accessible - though it has a poor selection for science fiction). But I'm finding that reading things like Scalzi's Big Idea series (for f and sf) and Vulpes Libris (for other stuff) is beginning to feel like a good substitute for wandering into a shop to see, and does seem to lead to serendipitous finds in the same way (most recently for me, Charles Nicholl's 'The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street')(Here's the review that led me to it.)

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 02:26 PM:

I have a system for tracking releases of new books by authors I've already found out about using my library's computer catalog. I can log into the library catalog on the internet and search on the author's name; books are usually entered into the system when they're ordered, several months in advance of publication in the case of most previously-published writers. So I can place a hold on a title before it's physically in the library (usually way behind the other fans who've gotten in ahead of me).

Finding new writers is harder and more catch-as-catch-can; occasionally checking publishers' online catalogs and new release pages, glancing through Locus reviews, hanging out here and on authors' blogs, and scanning the shelves at Powell's whenever I can get there.

#73 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 10:23 PM:

I understand both sides of the used bookstore issue. I have found some used bookstores seem to be more rewarding to browse than others. And it seems to less be a matter of how tidy or organized are the stacks (past a certain minimal sense) and more about whether serendiptious correlations happen more or less often. I sometimes swear that the owner of some stores must plan out the arrangement of certain "random stacks", because they seem to always end up to contain several things of interest or that look good, or none at all (Which means they were meant for someone else, clearly).

Whereas the Amazon recommendations lists seem to have a lowish success rate at the correlations I'd like to draw (Authors who hit the same writing kinks as X and Y, within a range or genres), even as they produce a higher one at certain more mundane commonalities (like genre or stated subject). Sort of like a mediocre used bookstore.

As for the actual post, I'm again not totally sure how the plentitude itself is a bad thing. I mean, we know what happens if you put too many kinds of peanut butter in front of people - they tend to cling to brand more tightly to avoid choosing, or else grow frustrated in a search for the Platonic Ideal peanut butter.

But I'm both not sure that applies to entertainment forms that aren't as essentially fungible. More than books, I seem to be doing my best lately to glut myself on music. And so far, I'm not sure what the bad side is. I'm not seeing either peanut butter effect - I'm searching more outside my genre, so I'm not clinging to what I know. Neither am I being frustrated by the lack of an Ideal version, because there isn't a singular ideal to look for. I can absorb new things - and it doesn't, to the best of my experience to date, lose me the ability to appreciate older songs, nor do I fail to be moved or recognize the personally affecting.

Can somebody see a downside?

(It helps that unlike books, one can listen to music* while doing a vast number of other things, so the question of time that comes with reading and to a lesser extent with tv-watching is rendered moot.)

*I know some people insist on listening to music on its own to most truly absorb it. I do things that don't take a lot of attention for first listens, but otherwise, I can do just about everything except watch tv simultaneously. YMMV.

#74 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 11:54 PM:

Neil in Chicago at # 11: Are you dating the rise of rap after grunge? Or am I misunderstanding you?

#75 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:34 AM:

Sandy B. @ 70: There are two types of books I buy: those I know I want when I see them, and those I don't know I want YET

I often find the ones that I didn't know that I wanted on the display tables at my neighborhood bookstore. It's a small place, with a small selection, but they have a gift for finding things that interest me. In addition to wandering in from time to time for general browsing, I try to remember to order the occasional Necessary Hardcover from them, the most recent being the new Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novel.
I don't have the same experience at Powell's Books, I think because of the overload factor. That's not to diss Powell's at all, but I tend to go in there looking for this & that author, load up, and leave.

#76 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:48 AM:

I'm wondering how much of this is just a reflection of what people are used to -- I could quite happily use amazon and a handful of other sites to keep myself well-supplied in books. Amazon is a tool for ordering and occasional serendipity; other places and people present opportunities for finding out about new books and authors.

It's been more of a necessity at various points when I've been less mobile, for a variety of reasons. So I'm appreciative just for that, if that were all. But I do think that having been forced to spend the time to learn to use Amazon and the Internet -- in the same way that I have learned my way around the inside of a bookstore -- I just don't have a problem with the online component. I have plenty of books and book dust at home, if I feel the need to re-enact the experience...

#77 ::: Timothy Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:16 PM:

janetl @ 75: Powell's is my most serendipitous bookstore. I think it's a combination of their enlightened practice of shelving used and new books together, their having books that no one else has, and my only visiting Portland once a decade or so. A. Amitin in St. Louis was similar.

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Powell's is not what it used to be, however. When I first moved to Portland in 1978, we would go to Powell's at least twice a month and browse the shelves. This was when it had just recently been opened by Michael Powell's father, and it was in a much smaller building, with a much more motivated and knowledgeable staff. The person responsible for the science shelves was willing to spend time with customers and recommend books; I typically bought 3 or 4 technical books every time I went there; I still have some of those books.

Now that there's a separate technical book store, I visit it perhaps 3 or 4 times a year, and the only employee I get to talk to is the used book purchaser. He's not very knowledgeable about subject matter, though he is curious, but he has some interesting things to say about the software they've developed for cataloging the books.

#79 ::: Lowell Gilbert ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2011, 09:04 AM:

My memories of the bookstore availability of the past is somewhat different. By the time I got to secondary school (a third of a century or so back), I had been introduced to the fact that any new-book store would order me anything I wanted. Yes, there were limits, but with my very limited funds, they didn't come into play. When I knew what I wanted, even the hole-in-the-wall Waldenbooks that I could reach on my bicycle was good enough.

Even now, I hear people claiming they like ordering online because they hate getting to a bookstore to find it doesn't have the book they want, and I don't get it.

Used bookstores, however, were something else. More of the thrill of the hunt. I still miss Elliot Kay Shorter's store on the East Side of Providence, although by nearly any standard my current local (Willow Books) is as good a small bookstore as I've ever frequented.

#80 ::: Lowell Gilbert ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2011, 09:22 AM:

Hmm. I'm not sure how I just ended up responding to a weeks-old thread.

I also realized the gap between my current state of being able to afford to buy all the books I want (at list price, even), and the struggle of Jo Walton's heroine.

Being able to use many different libraries is an advantage that has driven a lot of my reading. When I was a child, my parents helped me get library cards at a number of nearby cities, and would occasionally take me to visit libraries larger than the one in our town. Including the Rochambeau branch in Providence, which semi-specialized in SF. Today, my library card (from the town where I now live) is accepted at all of the half-dozen libraries within a fifteen-minute detour of normal commute home from work.

#81 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2011, 11:17 AM:

Lowell Gilbert @80 -- around here, weeks-old threads are practically current. Sometimes threads get reactivated after years of dormancy.

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