Wednesday, February 02, 2005

How Much is That Tchotchke in the Window

A couple of weeks ago I had some time to fill up--when you take public transportation, you get used to this--so I wandered into a Big Chain Bookstore (I forget whether it's a B&N or a B). I wasn't going to buy anything--I do nearly all of my book-buying at a local, independent, cooperative bookstore--but looking at books is one of the great joys in life. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Big Chain Bookstore (henceforth known as BCB) didn't have just books, and calendars, and some journals and pens, and a little coffee shop. They also had DVDs and music, which was a bit odd, I think--that's what Tower Records is for, isn't it? But the biggest shock at BCB was the huge piles of tchotchkes! Little bitty bits of this, and piles of that; trinkets and mini-books, and keychains, and yoga mats, and stuff for babies, and stuff for little girls (I don't really see most little boys wanting stuff with lots of glitter and sparkles and stuff on it) and I don't know what-all. Which brought to mind a question and an issue.

The question is--who buys this shit? And why? Seriously--what would one do with most of it? It's just . . . crap. Don't get me wrong--I do not live the life of a monk (for more reasons than the deities thing). I have an iPod. I have nine pair of cowboy boots. I have more earrings than you can believe (the bigger the better, I say). I have more than one pair of yoga pants and so on (though admittedly I buy nearly all of my clothing (a) online and (b) on sale). I have a ton of books. I have even started buying DVDs, though I'm limiting myself to things that I know I'll watch multiple times, which shortens the list considerably. I have a lot of spices, and cooking and baking implements (though not nearly enough sharp knives, if you ask C). (Let me tell you a funny story about that, later.) I'm sure that a stranger could go through my belongings and raise an eyebrow at this or that thing. But, seriously, what is the point of all that crap? Who buys it? Why? What do they do with it? Inquiring minds want to know.

The serious issue, though, is that the more space taken up by not-books, the less space there is, IN THE BOOKSTORE, for books. Want to find all of an author's books that are still in print? Maybe even a leftover copy of something that's no longer in print? Want to find something a little obscure? There's no room for those books when you have 1/3 of your square footage devoted to DVDs and tchotchkes. That's a serious point, too: if it's calling itself a bookstore, then, damnit, I want it to have as many books as possible crammed into it (bringing to mind the used bookstore that used to live at the corner of 5th and South Streets in Philadelphia--The Book Trader, I think--which had teetering piles of stuff all over the place). I want to be able to lose myself for hours--days!--without tripping over this other stuff.

And, really, why is a bookstore selling things other than books or things closely related to books? If I want a yoga mat, trust me, I'm going to get one at my yoga studio, or even online, before i buy one at a bookstore. If I want to browse movies or music, I'm going to Tower Records. But I realize that's actually a second question, isn't it? Also to which I do not know the answer.


Blogger Ann said...

Oh boy, one of my favorite pet peeves!

A lot of people buy stuff because it's labeled with the word "gift." They're representations of the fact that Person A remembered Person B's birthday; what actually happens to them after the exchange is irrelevant.

And a lot of people buy stuff, I think, because they believe it a) will make them happier, b) fulfills an abiding human desire for self-expression (see, also, bumper stickers), and c) suggests that we're financially stable.

And even many of my local, independent bookstores sell a lot of crap. Perhaps it's because when people want to buy just books, they go to, but when they want a book-buying "experience," they go to the store. Lots of things to look at and handle and coo over probably translates into at least a few sales.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Oooh--I really like the notion of a "book-buying experience." I think you're on to something there. I think some people like being in bookstores because it makes them feel like they're someone who reads books--even if what they buy isn't a book at all.

11:06 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Don't forget the element of impulse shopping, which goes something like, I came here to buy the latest Jackie Collins (Michael Crighton, whatever) novel, and since I'm spending money anyway on something I don't really need, why not spend a little more of it? What a cute mini-sushi kit! My daughter fell in love with this sparkly thing! And it's only an extra $5, which after spending $17 on this book doesn't seem like that much money...

As for the yoga goodies, I think a lot of people are curious about yoga but intimidated. The BCB is safe and familiar, unlike the local yoga studio, and one can buy all the equipment here, including the Rodney Yee DVD and mat, and get some basics at home rather than going to an actual class and collapsing during Downward Dog. And hey, your cousin/friend/sister is into yoga and you don't know what to get her for Christmas, so might as well get her some yoga stuff! (I have 3 yoga mats of varying quality because of this kind of thinking. It's proven oddly useful to have 3, though.)

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Poppy said...

I can't argue with some of the gift crap (sparkly sequinned feathered pens, etc), but about the DVDs....

Take pity on those of us who have a chain bookstore but no Tower Records handy. We've got both B&N and B in my town, but the nearest Tower Records is 110 miles north in Beaverton. And aside from the chain bookstores, when it comes to DVDs and CDs, we've got a locally owned music shop and three mall-front music/movie stores. The mall stores are just about worthless when it comes to finding something created before the past year or something unusual - but I was able to walk into the nearest chain bookstore and pick up a Le Tigre CD. Couldn't do that anywhere else locally without special ordering it.

Which probably says a lot about the American immediate gratification ideal. I prefer to think of it as, if I'm paying good money for something, I want it in my hand, not in the mail and 3 weeks later, I might actually get it. I also don't order from or from unless I absolutely can't find my books locally.

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