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Used Books, again...

  • Posted on: 1 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Just a gentle reminder that we are still overstocked, and therefore, unable to look at your used books. We will let you know when we can resume our perusals--promise.

Meanwhile, you might want to come and see what's filling up our shelves...remarkable books at remarkably low prices.

If I Were A Rich Man

  • Posted on: 1 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Years ago, Project Censored did a story on income inequality in this country, something that was--if not totally unreported--at least grossly under-reported and tucked demurely away under a rug. The story talked about how the richest 5% of America controlled around 25% of all our goods and services. That ratio--5% owning 25%--maintained itself from our beginnings as a nation through the Civil War, the First World War, the Great Depression, World War II, on up to the Reagan Era. That's when it started to climb. By the time the folks at Project Censored got around to it, the top 5% controlled 47% of America's wealth and there can be little doubt that it has only gotten more exacerbated since. I am guessing right now it's somewhere north of 60% that is owned by a very small club of people. Which, if you think about it, makes us just another Third World country, another Ecuador or Paraguay, only we have freeways and missiles and credit cards.

I was thinking about this as I heard about the difference between what the top executive makes at Walmart as compared with an entry level employee. I don't have the exact figures but that starting employee would have to work (I hope you're sitting down about now) almost 800 years to equal the annual pay of the CEO. That's eight centuries, count'em. Now, of course, you can justify the disparity. The entry level guy or gal isn't juggling spread sheets and mulling over how to put the squeeze on his subcontractors in China. That must be hard work, and at some point, probably ulcer-producing. Still, they are both working for the same company.

I sat down with a calculator and figured what the disparity is between what I make and what my newest employee makes, and let me tell you, it gladdened my heart. In fact, if you look at what I take home and divide it by the hours I work, I actually make less than my newest employee! Now you can also justify this by saying, well, you're the boss, you like what you do, so of course you work more. True enough. But the larger truth is that we independent retailers would love to earn more, but if we took larger draws we'd soon go out of business. There aren't many ways out of this box: you have to sell more books to make more money, but then you have to hire more people, or you have to work fewer hours and take the same amount of money, but then nobody's watching the store and things go to hell in a handbasket. I suppose we could sell stock in our venture, but who would buy such a thing?

Meanwhile, the rich get richer. Which is a wonderful thing, if money is your goal in life. One day, I imagine, if past is prologue, the top 5% will own 100% of this country. Then we can all relax. It'll be their headache then, thank God.


Knock, knock. Who's there?

  • Posted on: 25 May 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Not so long ago I wrote about how local Sonomans are no longer coming downtown, particularly on the weekends. My initial research (admittedly a very modest effort) revealed that local folks shy away from the Plaza because they are intimidated by the hordes of tourists. The tourists, of course, are coming here for the same reason locals (shall we call them pilgrims? pioneers?) came here before them: they're drawn to the warm air, the lovely scenery, the plethora of wineries and restaurants, the historicity, etc. It's sorta like what savvy real estate pros lop under the term "charm" when they calculate what our homes are worth.

You may recall that I argued against intimidation. I argued that there is no us and them. I argued that in the big picture us locals and them tourists are really one extended tribe of happy, warm blooded, sensual consumers. We're all here to enjoy; they (the tourists) are maybe just a little bit late to the party, is all.

Further research (I asked four citizens) suggests that Sonoma is not the most welcoming place for young people to live, that they would rather live in San Francisco or Paris or practically anywhere than here. So young people, as a group, are on the decline. That's the bad news. The good news is that older urbanites are coming here to buy a second home for themselves in the country. These new locals, however, may not be here day in and day out. In fact, they're probably just here on weekends because they still have their old lives back in the city. If I'm right about this, then the tourists you've been complaining about are in reality your new next-door neighbors, you know, that sweet quiet couple you hardly ever run into, Mr. and Mrs. Invisible.

You can rest assured that I'm going to continue my rigorous monitoring of this tectonic shift in our demographics, but for now, I just want everyone to know that, as immortal Pogo used to say, "we have met the enemy and they are us." And one day soon, maybe we'll have them over for dinner.


Another moritorium on used books

  • Posted on: 20 May 2013
  • By: readersbooks

There's good news and bad news (I don't mean this as a joke, there is always good news and bad news): The good news is that we have just acquired a huge and wonderful library from one of our customers. The bad news is that we are getting swamped with the aforementioned books and it will take some time to process them all through our store and out to you, the beloved public. Which means we have to call another temporary halt to your used book donations. Don't despair, however. You've lived through much worse, I'm sure. Remember the great gas embargo of 1973? When everyone could only tank up on odd or even days? That was bad. People killed each other over that. This? This is nothing, by comparison. A walk in the park. Just give us a couple-three weeks and we should be back in business again, promise. Meanwhile--you'll be amazed at the wonderful and unusual used books appearing on our shelves--check it out.

Amen to All That

  • Posted on: 20 May 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Towards the end of this month, while the rest of you will be basking in the sunshine and bathing at the beach and barbecuing in the backyard, I will be jetting off to the East for business. Actually, I'm going to the Book Expo America in New York (it used to be called the ABA convention back in my salad days). Every year it's held at the Javitz Center in Manhattan--a huge cavernous building close to Hell's Kitchen and Penn Station. I'll be surrounded by thousands of my fellow booksellers wandering haplessly from booth to booth, display to display, author to author. The purpose of this convention is to bond with my brethren, to assure ourselves that we are not alone in the universe, but it's also to gain valuable knowledge about up coming titles, new computer programs, new sidelines we might not have considered, new everything. We are encouraged to go forth and leave BEA like freshly minted marines charging out of boot camp, ready to rumble.

Sometimes I leave this way, but mostly not so much. It's a convention, after all, lots of people, lots of books, lots of noise and cute buttons and posters and chochkes being pressed upon you--all in the service of capitalism.

I'm not against capitalism, not exactly, but I also know that capitalism has not been particularly kind to booksellers, and the trend lines going forward are, well, iffy. Still, I go. I go because I sense now that bookselling is really not so much a profession as it is a religion; I go because I believe in it. I have no scientific proof that what I'm doing is good, but I know it nevertheless, I feel it deep down in my bones. It has value that transcends paying the rent or keeping the lights on. And in that context, the BEA convention is, I guess, the equivalent of Rosh Hashannah. It's New Year's, the big day when everyone all over the country comes together as one and reaffirms their booksellerisness. They shout yes yes yes yes the same way Molly Bloom says yes yes yes at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses. It's who we are. It's how we hope and pray for a new and kinder tomorrow.

A religion, hmmm. Hey, I may be onto something here.


The Luck of the Draw

  • Posted on: 5 May 2013
  • By: readersbooks

It was John Updike, I believe, who said that whenever he sits down to write a novel, he isn't thinking about the metropolitan crowds who will
hear about it on the Today Show and immediately rush out and snatch it
off the display table in some glitzy bookstore. No, his ideal customer
is quite different. He pictures a young, earnest person in a small town
in the middle of Iowa maybe, someone who has a few extra minutes to kill
and wanders into a public library, someone who is just browsing the
stacks aimlessly when all at once he comes upon that book. The title
makes him stop. It's familiar, or it reminds him of a conversation he
once had with an old friend or with a long lost love. Something
resonates inside this person and he (or she) pulls it off the shelf and
turns to the first page.

Many of my most pleasurable adventures in life have happened that way. I wasn't looking for a particular title. My mind was elsewhere. It was
almost as if the book I really needed to read at that moment (Steppenwolf, The Loved One, A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, The Day of the Locust) just sidled up out of nowhere and wedged itself into my hands by magic.

I say "almost" because I am not, by disposition, a proponent of magic. Even though I got a D in high school chemistry and don't ever really care to know what goes on under the hood of a car, when push comes to shove I'll still put my money down on science every time. Full disclosure: my younger son is a magician, and yes, of course, that sort of thing--slight of hand, misdirection, logical trickery--is fascinating and endlessly entertaining.

That said, I can't help but feel a little residual fluttering in my
fingertips whenever I land upon that certain book I didn't realize I was
longing for all my life. And I thank my lucky stars (not that I have
any) because here I was, in the right place at the right time, blessed,
you might say, if you believed in God (not really) and shazam! -Just
like that, I'm reading this dynamite book. Is this a great country or


Shifting the Sun

  • Posted on: 30 April 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Diana Der-Hovanessian

When your father dies, say the Irish,
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Welsh,
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses. May you inherit
his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the French,
you become your own father.
May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the English,
you join his club you vowed you wouldn’t.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever.
And you walk in his light.