Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a completely unscientific look at book-buying, part 2

Last night, INTERN went to her favorite bookstore just to hang out in the company of new books, as you might visit a bird sanctuary to hang out with an ever-changing roster of egrets just because you find it pleasant.

She had very sternly instructed herself not to buy anything. But in spite of her (apparently typical, in bookstore customers) preemptively raised defenses, one book mercilessly sank its fangs into her emotions and a Book-Buying Event transpired.

INTERN spent the rest of the evening trying to analyze the event and pick it apart. What happened in that bookstore? It's like trying to recall an alien abduction.

INTERN remembers walking to the poetry section and plucking a book off the shelf because it looked thick and new and had the kind of matte cover that doesn't get finger-printy (very important for a book's seductiveness, at least when it comes to seducing INTERN).

INTERN remembers flipping through the book and reading a few lines from poems here and there, and how reading a few lines compelled her to read entire poems—she didn't have to search through the book to find a good poem, or encounter any poems she found to be turn-offs. The book was an anthology, so there was the feeling of getting much poetic bang for the buck of turning more pages.

INTERN remembers checking the publication information for the book and seeing that it was published in 2009. This felt important for some reason.

INTERN remembers sitting down in a chair with the book to spend some more time with it.

After that, there is only a flood of emotions:

-interest/love/identification with/for the content of the poems
-nostalgia/sorrow/regret for the days when INTERN read a lot of poetry, and a feeling that she should start again
-the sensation of re-sparking of a "lost connection" to a poetic side of herself
-feeling of lapsed belonging to some kind of imagined poetic community that could be reinstated by buying and reading the book
-feeling of grief/urgency/quasi-religious atonement, all tied into buying the book

After five minutes of handling the book, INTERN might as well have left an internal organ on the shelf and walked away from it as walked away from that book. Putting the book back on the shelf would have constituted a betrayal or a serious psychic wound. Buying the book was completely, overwhelmingly necessary.

Looking back over the experience, INTERN suspects the following elements are portable and could apply to other books and book-buyers besides herself:

-sense experience (book looks and feels good)
-feeling of "belonging" to a certain book or to the community implied by that book
-certainty that the book will deliver certain benefits (emotional, intellectual...)
-feeling that the (expensive! unnecessary!) purchase of said book is justified
-sensation of being brought to one's knees by the desire to own said book...sensation of acute distress if book is not immediately purchased...

Now if only one could bottle those elements and sell them...oh wait, that would be evil...

(The book, by the way, was American Hybrid, an anthology of new/experimental poetry.)

How is everyone's Wriming and Revismoing going? Word count increasing or decreasing respectively?

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for asking! Wriming is going well. Revismoing next month will be a great relief to my psyche.

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  2. At the words "the kind of matte cover that doesn't get finger-printy", I swooned a little like we were both teens and you were describing the high school hunk...

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  3. You are brilliant. Just wanted to point that out. Can't wait to read the books you'll write.

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  4. My word count increased, at first, when I realized I needed some extra scenes. Then, I completely reworked the beginning and ending and read the entire WIP aloud. Reading the manuscript aloud (or in whispers if too many people were present), helped me to cut excess verbiage. So there you are. My NaNoReVisMo is going great!
    And I know what you mean about being seduced into buying books. Thank goodness I have children to feed and clothe, who prevent me from spending all of my income on books.

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  5. Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
    - Henry Ward Beecher

    To many of us, books are like friends and then some. And so bookstores are always laced with temptation ‘cause we drop in just to see who’s around, notice someone new, read all sorts of good things about them, open them up, hear a few witty remarks, and next thing you know we’re buying them a ride home and taking them to bed.

    Some we kick out before the night is through, some we hold onto for years as those who truly know and reflect our souls, and some we enjoy for a couple of nights, only to pass them off to friends as we seek the next attraction.

    So yeah, you nailed all the points of your seduction: He looks good, is nice to touch, no turn-offs, hasn’t been around a long time, and when you sit down to spend more time with him, “there is only a flood of emotions” as you seek to regain that “lost connection” or simply get “much poetic bang.”

    In short, some people have bars. We have bookstores. And are all the better for it.

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  6. The second of your observations, "-feeling of 'belonging' to a certain book or the community implied by that book," made me think of the Vintage trade paperbacks of the late 80's/early 90's when I first became interested in literary fiction. There didn't seem to be many around in those days and when I'd spot that distinctive spine with the author's name in white against a solid block of color I'd instinctively reach for it. I know you should never judge a book by the cover, but these covers and the sumptuous size of the book they covered promised something special, that you'd get to feel a little sophisticated (at least to someone in the Midwest and then the Deep South) and cool for having selected one and after you'd read a few you had a rough idea of what you were going to get and it felt safe to try out new authors("If it was good enough for Vintage, it must be pretty good")and even when I didn't buy, the spine was enough to get me to pull it off the shelf and read the jacket copy. I think today we call this Branding.

    It seems to me that while everyone else has climbed aboard the branding bandwagon, the publishing industry has never really taken advantage. Maybe there are quirks to the publishing industry I don't understand, but why don't publishers do more to promote loyalty to something other than a single author? I know imprints are still around, but they're so vast or under publicized that to anyone outside of publishing they have no identity or meaning.

    Why not build up a brand representing a fairly small number of debut and midlist authors and tightly focused on a set of themes or a particular outlook? Marketing and sales efforts could be pooled to promote the brand and develop customer loyalty. When new authors are added their promotion already has a foundation and doesn't need to start from scratch. When one of the titles takes off, the entire brand benefits.

    A strong brand would develop a stable group of customers probably loyal for life and it seems that a really strong brand could give a publisher some leverage with chains (package deals?) that they otherwise wouldn't have.

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  7. I was just about to comment on the non-finger-printy cover... but then I realized that CKHB said it perfectly. Down with smudges!

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  8. Good for you for liking (and buying) a poetry book. Poetry doesn't get enough respect. Or sales.

    Also, down with cover-smudges!

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  9. Oh my, when you went through the rationalizations that ran through your head about why you needed that book, it was me. Last time I bought a two-volume vintage set of Shakespearean plays because who could ever love it as much as me? And I was sure that I'd read it to my children one play at a time. And it's collectible! And what a good price! The real reason? I love books.

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  10. Fascinating post and comments. I have a similar reach-out-and-look reaction to seeing the Faber and Faber logo on a spine. or a penguin for that matter.

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  11. "-sense experience (book looks and feels good)
    -feeling of "belonging" to a certain book or to the community implied by that book
    -certainty that the book will deliver certain benefits (emotional, intellectual...)
    -feeling that the (expensive! unnecessary!) purchase of said book is justified
    -sensation of being brought to one's knees by the desire to own said book...sensation of acute distress if book is not immediately purchased...

    Now if only one could bottle those elements and sell them...oh wait, that would be evil..."

    Now if only one could write those elements and sell them...oh wait, that would be one huge goal from writing to begin with. Ah! prepurchase participation mystique. Then at home with the book and postpurchase confirmation bias doesn't even rear its ugly head the book's so good.

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  12. I think I love you.

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  13. Speaking of being broke and buying books anyway - I'm going tonight to pick up Andre Agassi's book and have it signed by the man himself.

    Working at a major motion picture studio, I'm not usually a frothing fan girl, but tonight will surely test me beyond my Earthly limitations.
    :D
    G.

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  14. Ah, you are a woman after my own heart. Sigh.

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  15. Wow. This blew me away.

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