Friday, January 11, 2013

On a scale of 1 to 10, what will be your pain level when Barnes & Noble disappears?

The news that Barnes & Noble is closing stores seems to be making people rather sad (except those who gleefully remind us that B&N were the Amazon of the 1990s, edging small stores out of the market with their cafés, discounted calendars and strange puzzles.) Personally I’m not knocking B&N, mainly because they had the limited edition Hobbit Moleskine notebook of my dreams IN STOCK after I thought I’d never get one as they were sold out online.

Yesss precioussssss
But the whole brouhaha made me think about excess vs. simplicity, a topic that’s been on my mind recently. Bookshops used to be simple little places that sold, well, books. Maybe you could get a diary or journal in there as well, or a pretty bookmark. You didn’t expect them to be places where you could grab a latte and a sandwich, the latest knot-tying magazine, a couple of videos AND some music for the ride home.

Of course now the bricks-and-mortar book trade (in the US at least) will probably be swallowed up by the Stores That Sell Everything, who will obligingly sell you any book you want as long as it’s a recent bestseller. And as people still like to browse books we might see a few new small stores spring up, but I rather hope they have a Death Ray that zaps you as soon as you purchase a book online while standing in front of the selfsame book in the store. To such depths have I never sunk.

It’s a well-known principle that the more gorgeous baubles are dangled in front of your eyes, the more you’ll end up buying. This is how car showrooms manage to infect entire streets (I live in a town with a Mile of Cars) because salesmen know that people are pulled in by lots of choice, and in the end everyone wins.

I tend to find that I am what I surround myself with. The problem with living in a fairly affluent suburb is that you tend to spend more on your house, not just because they simply cost more but because most of us inevitably try to match our lifestyle to those around us. Seriously, I have neighbors who literally buy a new car every time anyone else in their cul-de-sac does.

When we lived in Belgium we owned the Big House on the block, although it wasn’t fancy because like most houses in the area it was a bit of a fixer-upper. Then we moved to the Chicago suburbs and ended up (because we had no clue) in a much posher area than we’re now in. Suddenly our very decent 1960s colonial—which would have been considered VERY fancy-schmancy in our old Belgian neighborhood—was on the low end of the market, and we had Standards to live up to.

And it’s not just home décor. Your kids had to be in programs when young and in some kind of a sport when older, choir trips weren’t to the next state OH NO, they went to Europe, and every time I turned around I was expected to provide copious amounts of food for some classroom event or ante up the $$$ for some little extra or the other.

Felsted and I are now moving toward that part of life where your income is smaller but your free time is larger, and even though Orangina may well live with us permanently, with two adult kids we’re not constantly in our cars or getting nickeled and dimed by the room moms. We’re kind of at that point, too, where we don’t feel like we need any more Stuff. My wishlist is mostly books (this was a SQUEE Christmas as some of Felsted’s relatives have cottoned on and are buying me Penguin Classics) while Felsted asks for classic movie and TV DVDs. Downsizing may be in our future. In all, I’m trying to shape my life more so that I enjoy what I’ve already got than acquire anything else.*

And what does that have to do with Barnes & Noble? I dunno really. I think it’s just that for me, B&N represents the excessive consumption of our 30s and 40s (which happened to coincide with the rise of the Big Bookstore) while little niche bookstores represent what I hope to achieve over the next few years: the appreciation of just a few things rather than the acquisition of a lot.

Of course we still have the retail world at our fingertips online, but the great thing about online shopping for me is that I hone in on EXACTLY what I want rather than browse through the aisles picking up a bunch of stuff I don’t really need. I’m not keen on the Shopping Experience unless there are samples, and by samples I mean food.**

What about you, Dear Reader? Are you prostrate with grief at the thought of the demise of the giant chain bookstore with its café? Or did you long ago move past the Book Shopping Experience to ordering online?

*Except an iPad. What IS it about those things that makes me lust after them so?
**I’m not the only one. A certain local supermarket isn’t all that good in my opinion but it gives great samples. It’s hard to find a parking space by it even though they’ve doubled the size of their lot.