Monday, January 17, 2011

Buying books. Without the independent mystery bookstore where do we go?


Donis asks a good question. How do you decide what books to buy? I answered her in the comments but found I had a lot to say so decided to write about it today. I also read the Sisters in Crime report and didn’t find any surprises.

Like most people the main reason why I would buy a book is if it is by an author I like. Doesn’t have to be a series, some authors I like write standalones. But I can’t just read authors I’ve read before. For one thing, I’d eventually have nothing to read! So l looked over my recent book buying choices and here is my reasoning.

Bad Boy by Peter Robinson. Bit of a no brainer. Robinson/Banks. Obviously extremely high author recognition. This book was a purchase I knew I was going to make before going to the bookstore.

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. This one I didn’t buy. It was given to me by a friend who said I should read it. I would never have picked this one up – simply didn’t care for the theme. If my friend had recommended I buy it, I never would have. Instead she gave it to me and because I know she wants to talk about it, I read it. I thought it was great. Will I buy the next book by this author? Probably not. I suspect this book was a one-off.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This one I bought because of the massive press it got, but also because several people I know recommended it. So it had very high interest level for me. I loved it. Bought All the Pretty Horses. Never finished that one. Probably the end of McCarthy for me. Again a planned purchase.

The Terror by Dan Simmonds. Strictly chosen by title and cover when I spotted it in the bookshelf. A lovely cover image of a sailing ship trapped in ice. The cover picture and the title The Terror made me reach for it because I figured it was about the Franklin Expedition. Which it is. It was only when I got the book home and was re-reading the blurb when I realized it was a HORROR novel. I never, ever read horror. However, I started reading and really enjoyed the book. The horror wasn’t at all horrible. A total spontaneous purchase. Book was just on the stacks in the local independent store.

Let the Dead Lie by Malla Nunn. Now here’s where it gets interesting. I came across Nunn’s first book, A Beautiful Place to Die, because it was recommened to me. Absolutely loved it and I’m really looking forward to this one. The book is set in 1950s South Africa and as some of you know, I lived in South Africa for 11 years.

In the spring of 2009 Debby Atkinson and I did a book tour of Arizona and California. We stopped at lots of bookstores and, of course, talked books. I bought a ton of books, strictly based on the recommendation of the bookstore workers. A Beautiful Place to Die was one of them.

One of the stores we visited was The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Which announced it’s closing at the end of the month.

I wonder where I will now go to be introduced to new authors. Not the chain store. The employees there might even be informed readers but there just isn’t the environment to chat with them and find out what they like. The small bookstore environment, particularly a speciality store such as a mystery store, was such that you could mention what books you’d read lately and they’d know it and would have probably read it. They’d certainly have heard of it. And thus they could walk up and down the shelves and pick out books they figured you’d like. They would recommend books because they were good, not because they were well advertised.

Don Longmuir at Scene of the Crime books in Oakville, Ontario introduced me to Susan Hill, one of my top favourites.

Linda Wiken at Prime Crime in Ottawa introduced me to Stuart Pawson. I’ve bought everyone one of them and my daughter also reads them. She just bought the latest, and if I don’t see her soon, to get her copy, I’ll be buying my own. Can’t wait.

Marion Misters and J.D. Singh at Sleuth of Baker Street introduced me to Zoe Sharp long before she was in any of the chain bookstores on this side of the pond.

Like The Mystery Bookstore and so many others, Scene of the Crime and Prime Crime are defunct. Sleuth is cutting its operations back and moving to smaller premises with less hours. So, where will I go now to meet new authors of the sort I’m almost guaranteed to love? If only I can find them.

Fortunately, for me, I’m going to Poisoned Pen in March (March 27th to be precise). I’ll be sure to have plenty of room in my suitcase for all the books I’m going to buy.

We’re losing a lot with the death of the independent bookstore. I think we don’t really know, yet, how much.

Before I finish, here's another recent purchase: Slow Recoil by C.B. Forrest. Again strictly author recognition and an intended purchase. Loved his first book, Weight of Stones. It was perhaps the best book I read in 2010. Almost totally unknown, the only reason I read his first book is because it was published by the publisher of my Klondike books. Slow Recoil is almost as good. But I fear that without the independent bookstore to push his books by word of mouth, he won't get the recognition he deserves.

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