For Mother’s Day, my kids gave me a book store gift card, so it was with zero guilt that I bought three books – two that weren’t even on sale, and one of them a hardback. I bought The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, and The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.
The Wally Lamb book and I have a previous relationship that started long before the purchase. I’ve held it in my arms for whole 15-minute stretches while wandering around the book store. I turned its pages and read about half of the first chapter. I may have spilled some tears on the dedication page. I smelled it. I wanted to buy it, didn’t want to pay hardcover price, wanted to read it, didn’t want to wait for the paperback, didn’t want to get on a list at the library, almost bought it, and then put it back on the shelf. On Friday, as I stood with it at the checkout, I felt like I was standing at the altar with my longtime mistress.
While it is my favorite Florida book store, Books-A-Million has about 3.5 million more miles to go before it comes close to My Best Bookstore of All Time, the Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington. I spent more time at that store in four years than I spent in bars and restaurants my entire life. (But since Joseph Beth sells both alcoholic beverages and food, I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison.) The key to the Joseph Beth success is the cushy, comfy chairs they had virtually all over the store. They encouraged shoppers to sit and read the books instead of buying them, and as a result I spent more money in that book store than anywhere else. (Admittedly, I did also spend a lot of time sleeping in there, and I read two David Sedaris books from start to finish without actually purchasing them. But I was a super frequent buyer.) I don’t know who Joseph and Beth are, but they have a lock on reverse psychology and how to make money from it.
I’m still working on a system at Books-A-Million. I haven’t figured out which sections in which I’m likely to find books I love, and which sections have books with the word tender in the front flap.
It shows promise:
- It has two comfy chairs. They’re next to each other, so it’s possible they might mate and have little comfy chairs for the Children’s section that will eventually grow and move to the Twilight wing and then to Home Improvement.
- It has weird, retro things that you can’t find anywhere else on earth, like coin collecting supplies. I’ve never collected coins, but I’m fascinated with hobby nerds and their highly specialized accoutrements. The book store coin collecting corner has actual coins for sale, as well as those heavy cardboard books with little coin-sized holes in them, and something called “show guards,” which sounds like it should be part of the high school marching band.
- It has a coffee shop within it. Thus, we’re encouraged to walk around with coffee in our hands, even though we might be immature and spill. They trust us. Which is nice. Plus we get to drink coffee while we shop.
All that and books. It could use a little help in the greeting card selection, and I’d suggest breaking out some edgy, new classic paperbacks and putting them on a display shelf that is near the two comfy chairs. But the magazines rock and they’ve got tons of little notepads, teensy reading lights and other stocking stuffers. Last Christmas I bought my daughter an Elvis-in-the-gold suit paper doll bookmark and it was one of our better gifts under $10.
I’ll be back in there often, even though I spent my entire gift card. Looking for new David Sedaris books and counting chairs.