Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Attention Nerds…

… Please learn some freakin’ social skills. Thank you.

I was in the bookstore yesterday.

Barnes and Nobles.

I really hate those places. I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love bookstores. I love old bookstores. I love reading. I love books. I love the feel of books and I love the smell of old bookstores, the musty odor of old binding glue and paper. I especially love used book stores. I love the peace and the quiet and the tall stacks of mysteries and thrillers and horror and science fiction.

I grew up around Grand Rapids, Michigan. Whenever we’d visit my Aunt and Uncle in Eastown, usually every Sunday, My cousins and I would walk down the block to stare in the windows of what had to be damned near the perfect bookstore, Argos - which, I’m happy to report, is still there 35 years later, though it is a very different place from the store I remember. As soon as I could drive, Argos was one of my most frequent destinations. In those days it was a cramped dusty establishment in an ancient brownstone building, nobody ever went there but us bookworms. The front was a wood and glass door with an old fashioned brass handle, there was supposed to be a latch but the old brass thumb lever had long since stopped working. The door stuck and was hard to open, and when you finally forced your way in there was the sudden tinkling and jangling of bells. The shelves were just boards knocked together by generations of college kids who worked the ancient manual cash drawer and helped you find things using an arcane card filing system that only they understood. The lighting was lousy and the old wooden floors creaked when you walked on them. The store smelled of paper mites and glue and ink, and there was an air of mystery and weirdness about the place. They sold mostly used books, but there was a lot of new stuff too, especially science fiction. And they could order things for you and they had stuff that never appeared at Walden’s or the other mall bookstores – such as signed hardcover copies of Poul Anderson’s Orion Shall Rise, or Niven’s Ringworld (both of which I still own, three decades later), or the amazing but short lived Epic Illustrated with such fantastic fare as Abraxis and the Earthman by the incredibly talented graphic artist Rick Veitch

I loved that store.

I spent hours among those stacks - and you could, spend hours among the stacks, because nobody bothered you. There were never any screaming children, I doubt that in those days children ever set foot in the store. There was no coffee shop and therefore there wasn’t any of the associated dipshits loudly slurping coffee and smacking their lips among the aisles. There were no easy chairs sucking up precious space, and thus no freeloading bastards plopped down on the cushions with their feet sticking out in the way, shoes off and sock clad toes stinking up the place, and their sticky finger gunking up the books with biscotti guts. There were no gum snapping bimbos in trashy outfits pushing book carts down the aisle – because, hey, when else would you stock the damned shelves but when your customers are trying to look at your merchandise?

No, Argos was a book store. You wanted to sit about with your pants unsnapped and your shoes off, slurping coffee and passing gas and reading, well you bought the book and went the hell home. The place was a bookstore, not your goddamned living room.

I’ve been back once or twice in the years since.

Sadly the store has expanded and modernized. It wouldn’t surprise me if they sell coffee and have easy chairs. And it’s the same everywhere else, the musty little book stores are slowly disappearing, replaced by giant soulless megastores. There’s no personality to those places, they’re the Wal-Mart of bookstores. They smell of paint and new carpet and Starbucks. One stop shopping – except they never have what I’m looking for.

And worst of all, they’re crowded – full of mouth breathing retards slurping coffee and chomping on Italian cookies and talking on their goddamned phones and chasing their screaming kids. It’s funny how people sort themselves out without even realizing it in one of those mega book barns, isn’t it? A psychology PhD candidate could probably get a reasonably decent thesis out of it.

- The New Age section had a woman in what looked like homespun woolen leggings and a none too clean checkered dress. She had a big violet crystal on a chain around her neck. She smiled dreamily at me as I passed by.

- The guy in the gardening section reeked of burning rope and I think he had been crying, because his eyes were all red. He was wearing those really big and thick corduroy pants and some kind of homespun looking tunic thing – he might have been related to the woman in the New Age aisle. He had a book on organic tomato cultivation. I said “Excuse me,” as I walked past him, he sort of grunted acknowledgement and skrunched over to one side as if he was afraid of contact – in this age of flying pig flu maybe he had a point.

- There was a long haired bearded guy in a gray sweater pursuing the Linux section of the computer aisle. He wasn’t wearing suspenders, but he was wearing sandals with red socks. He passed me about four times looking for something in particular which he couldn’t find, the first three times he said, “Excuse me,” the forth time he just sort of nodded.

- The cooking section was filled with gay guys (OK, two gay guys, but they were large gay guys and they filled the aisle) arguing about pasta. They stepped aside to let the book cart girl go by, and then me.

- There was nobody in the woodworking section. It was right next to the photography section, which featured a large hardcover book entitled “Boobs.” Every single male that passed by stopped, glanced around, then opened the cover - then acted like they were really, really interested in photography when their wives came to see what they were looking at.

Eventually, I ended up in the science fiction section.

Which brings me back to the subject of this post: Attention nerds. Attention geeks. Please, by all that is holy, learn some social skills will you please?

Some pointers:

- Hygiene in public is not optional, take a shower, use soap, use shampoo, scrub your ass - or stay home.

- If you walk between me and what I’m looking at, use the phrase “Excuse me, please.” Better yet, don’t walk between me and what I’m looking at, go behind me. Yes, I realize this will require you to actually be aware of your surroundings, try it, you might like it.

- I don’t know what you had to eat last night during your whirlwind World of Warcraft fest, but it crawled up your ass and died. Don’t share. Really. Burping and farting loudly in public went out with King Henry VIII. If you lack the necessary sphincter muscles to control your flatulence, I suggest you try jamming that cell phone you’re loudly talking on up there as a cork.

- Don’t sit on the floor in the middle of the goddamned aisle with a stack of comic books, snorting and giggling at the black and white line drawings of warrior women and their enormous boobies. Also please stop pawing the Boris Vallejo collections. (Also, maybe if you took a shower, learned some manners, and got a little sun – you’d get to see some boobies, you know, for real, just sayin’).

- If you must stand directly behind me and chew that fucking biscotti, try to do it with your mouth firmly closed. OK, Horse Lips?

- Empty coffee cups go in the trash, not on the book shelves or the floor.

- Shoes, not optional, Sasquatch. Keep yours on.

Thank you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.


  1. Poor Jim. Can't go out in public anymore.

    OR as I say, I start shopping in the malls again when they allow me to wear my machete in public.

  2. Last year I had a contract in Winnipeg in the Exchange District (think buildings from Chicago 1924). A block from my office was the perfect bookstore. There were so many books that the floors had settled about 3 inches between the joists. Tall bookshelves hand made nailed to the 10 foot ceiling for stability, books piled on the floor everywhere making it hard to walk and of course, the obligatory used bookstore cat.

    It was a vast cavern filled with hidden delights. The shelved books are in some sort of vague order,but the piles on the floor just grew and you could find "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig" next to "The Green hills of Earth" if you looked hard enough.

    E-books are great, but there's nothing like a really good used bookstore.

    P.S I do shower with soap and shampoo and scrub all crevasses at least once a month, I don't know why you're complaining.

  3. If I'm ever in Winnipeg, I'll look that store up, Tim. Sounds like my kind of place.

    Seriously, though, there was both a guy and a girl, unrelated, in the SciFi section, both looked and smelled like they hadn't bathed in forever. The girl had long matted dreadlock things that looked like they were full of dirt and old food. The guy was wearing one of those big baggy black coats with the buckles and snaps and such and there was enough grease in his hair to solve the oil crisis and he reeked of ass. Just reeked of it.

    There was another slovenly hulk sitting on the floor, right in the middle of the aisle, surrounded by comic books and coffee cups like some kind of homeless encampment. You could not get around this dipshit and you couldn't see the stacks and he was completely oblivious to anybody else - and he was sitting directly in front of the Ken MacCleod which really pissed me off.

    You don't see people doing this in other sections of the store, just the SciFi section. Seriously WTF?

  4. This is why I buy everything from Amazon now. They have what I want without all the annoying suburbanites and their half foam triple espresso latte asses. I had a bookstore just like yours called "The Book Bin" when I was a kid. It closed in the late nineties and I have not set foot in a bookstore since.

  5. Jim, if you're ever in Milwaukee you should check out Downtown Books, www.downtownbooksonline.com. It's three stories of musty, old, quiet used books of every kind you could imagine. It's pretty well organized, clean, and inexpensive. At least it was when I was in there last which is probably about two years ago. From what I understand, it hasn't changed in a long time, so it's probably still safe. The National Geographic room is cool because they have so many back issues, spines out, that go back into the 20s and the room just glows yellow. And they have a good selection of SciFi, without the mountainous nerds sitting in the way. No coffee either. They don't have much by way of new books, but they've got just about everything else.

  6. DragonCon attendance was over 35,000 this year. Having just lurked for several hours last week at the country's largest sci-fi & fantasy con, I can attest to the fact the sci-fi masses are generally well-kempt and acutely aware of both body image and odor, especially if costumed. This includes the two fully geared storm troopers overheard discussing a trip to their room to swap uniforms because the ones they were wearing reeked!

    Sorry your local yokels don't know where to buy soap, let alone how to use it.

    I too prefer the old stores, and there are a couple good ones near the big university campuses here that sell a mix of old and used tomes. Found one down the street from me last summer, but before I could get back there the sign disappeared.

    One over by Emory leaves 2 or 3 library carts outside 24/7 with an eclectic selection of well, well loved used books, and a note to pay (honor system) what you feel the book is worth. You pay by sliding the money through the mail slot next to the door. I've found a few best seller gems I would not have paid real money for a time or two, and when I'm done drop them off at one of the homeless shelters. Cost me a buck apiece and a few minutes to run by the shelter on my way home.

    What I object to in stores like B&N and Borders are the number of students - of all ages - doing entire research papers while parked at the tables. GET A CLUE and go to the public library, that's what it's for!! Did your parents not teach you that?? Never mind, I see your dad over there with his feet up on a second chair breaking the spine of a new book because he fell asleep with the open book clutched to his chest!! GO HOME!!!

    Sorry dude, cracking the spine on my new book is my job. Deal with it.

  7. I'm conflicted, actually. I love the old bookstore-is-a-bookstore places for the same reasons you mention, Jim. The smell, the dustiness, the fact that it's a place you go for books and not a half-assed-bookstore-meets-half-assed-coffee-shop unholy hybrid....

    And yet, that having been said, I've been known to go into one of the half-assed-hybrids to browse with friends, hang out in the cafe section, etc. I've been known to show up at one with my laptop (though it was to meet a friend who preferred the place--it wasn't really my first choice of coffee shops). Actually, a few months ago I was meeting another friend and had time to kill and wanted coffee, so what did I do? I went to a Books-A-Million, browsed the shelves for a bit, thumbed through some things, and eventually meandered over to the coffee counter for caffeination.

    I guess I see both sides.

    On top of which, most of the books I buy, I actually buy the same way Chris does--online.

    So I sort of see many sides of it.

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  9. Speaking of "get a Clue," what's the deal with the big-box bookstores usually having a shelf with a cruddy selection of board and card games? Monopoly, Clue, and then usually some cheesy party games (possibly based on a TV show). WTF? Do people ever actually buy games at bookstores like that? RPGs, sure: they're books, buy 'em at a bookstore. But "Law And Order The Board Game"? Seriously?

  10. The Law & Order Board Game goes with the fact that many of these bookstores also do DVDs and there are boxed sets after boxed sets of TV show seasons -- so the board games are a tie-in to selling the videos.

    Schuler's in Grand Rapids has a very nice cafe, free Wi-Fi and you're expected to keep the food and drink in the cafe -- with the books and magazines you've paid for. Thank you!

    But there is something wonderful about a good old bookstore. Argos in G.R. is owned by the same people who have Curious and Archives bookstores in E. Lansing. Archives hosted most of the weekly readings by the instructors during the six weeks of Clarion in 2004 -- and before they moved to San Diego, I went to several of the Clarion readings at Archives in later years. Great bookstore cat!

    Then there's Apparitions Comics & Books in G.R., which has a massive backlist of real Japanese magna, and tons of SF paperbacks. And Neutron, another great bookstore cat!

    Dr. Phil

  11. Re the games, we have several picked up at a B&N. We also have 6 grand-nephews/nieces who show up for a half week at Thanksgiving.

    It amuses them.

    I'm equally happy in the Strand or B&N and mourned when Coliseum Book (large indy in NYC) closed for good.

    I just tell them to move and stand threateningly over. Works.

  12. Knoxville, TN has an example of what I can only describe as a mainstream used book store-- McKay's.


    They don't buy back anything but newer, high-turnover product. No old and dusty books anywhere to be seen, and the crowd reflects that. Families seem to come for a cheap family outing, so there are always screaming babies or kids running around. There are no couches or coffee, but regardless it's usually more crowded and obnoxious than the big-box chain new stores, if you can believe that. I've never been to their other stores in Nashville and Chattanooga, but I imagine they're similar.

    We do have a halfway decent old-n-musty store, though, with requisite cattage: Book Eddy (no website).

  13. Try The BookShop in Covina, CA. Narrow aisles, in a non-earthquake safe building, but books to die for. The only thing missing is a book shop cat. bit since the front door is usually open, it's probably just as well.

    Currently, I'm lusting after the giant collection of 1920's children's fiction.

  14. Ah, old fashioned bookstores - I love 'em. Luckily there are some really nice ones in the L.A. area. Iliad Bookshop (which is featured in Free Enterprise) used to be a couple of blocks from my previous apartment. It's since moved due to rising rent, but not far from its previous location. It's still stacked floor to ceiling with books. And it has a book shop cat!

    There are also Book Castle-Movie World, Vroman's Books and Book Soup as well as several smaller stores. Unfortunately one of the most well-known closed earlier this year: Dutton's in Brentwood.

    I almost never buy books online. There's something about browsing in a brick and mortar store that I will always love, even if it's Barnes & Noble or Borders. Guess I'm old-fashioned that way.

  15. My memories of course are of old small town English bookstores. Redolent of the smell of paper, leather bindings and dust. Many a bliisful afternoon was spent there. I did pass through a coffeeshop called Chapters a few weeks ago and I vaguely remember a few books scattered here and there but I could have been mistaken. Shopping online for books is a convenience I could live without - a good book has more then words involved. It has a presence that excites all the senses. And that I miss.

  16. Dandle? What part of the country, or history, is that from?
    My peeve is that at Wal-mart, CompUSA, and Fry's I go looking for help and see 6 or 8 employees standing around rapping (talking, for the 21st Cent punks), and can't get any help. Ass. Managers are especially bad about walking right by you thinking they are more important than any puny customer. And they will walk right in front of you - they are 'Working', so you can wait on them. Then there are the 'make whitey wait' trash, but they are on both sides of the ID badge - just really surprising when they do it to customers at their J O B.

  17. "I love bookstores. I love old bookstores. I love reading. I love books. I love the feel of books and I love the smell of old bookstores, the musty odor of old binding glue and paper. I especially love used book stores. I love the peace and the quiet and the tall stacks of mysteries and thrillers and horror and science fiction."
    I can't even describe what it's like to find someone else who "gets it"!!
    I know this blog may be from "forever" ago, but I just stumbled upon it and find myself almost teary-eyed with memories of the old book stores I grew up loving in New England. I still have many of the books, but alas, no more book stores to go to (other than the mega-stores and mall- which I hate to give my money to if I can avoid it), so am stuck buying on-line. I truly miss those dusty old book stores. I don't even know if any of them still exist in CT or Mass. From what I can tell of the Hell-Hole I call home now-a-days (S.W. Florida), there were never any of those kinds of stores to miss!


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