Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bookstore Economy

Saturday was the grand opening of the Twig/Red Balloon, our local indie, at its new location at the old Pearl Brewery site. I had to bus over because the car's still in the shop, so I was limited in what I could buy, not only because our domestic tech is breaking down and money is tight, but because I can only carry so many books even in the backpack that makes total strangers worry I'm going to hurt myself hauling it around. Also, I stopped at the farmer's market in the space and got some spinach and broccoli, food that takes up a fair amount of space.

I still spent more than I ideally should have, but it couldn't be helped and I was conservative - next books in series, books I knew I couldn't get at the library, one research book, books by friends. I got new titles by Natalie Babbitt and Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who I've been reading for decades, and who are both authors that people who aren't in the children's book business are always delighted to learn are still alive and still writing. That's my ambition in a nutshell - to be one of those children's authors who keeps doing it, year after year, with a big chunk of shelf in the library that a kid can come back to trip after trip working through systematically one book at a time (I still do this) and occasionally see a new one pop up.

Anyway, I wish I had the funds, and the room, to keep up with my field solely through the Red Balloon instead of relying so heavily on the library. One trip a month and a subscription to The Horn Book would do it, and would be a help to their bottom line. I worry that San Antonio will lose our indie as so many other cities have, but I also worry that my husband will die or that the back will fall off our house (it's more possible than you think) and that we need to keep overpaying the credit cards and keep our debt from ballooning. I'm a natural non-spender. So in the interest of serving all the needs, I avoid buying at the megabookstores and Amazon (my husband does not, but a lot of what he buys is outside their normal stock), and when I want to order a book and have it as soon as it comes out, I do so through them. They have an excellent track record for ordering. If the book is available at the distributor at all they'll have it for you the Tuesday after you ask for it, and they call and tell you when it comes in.

The store is double-sided: the Twig for adult books, with a small but good assortment of mainstream, literary, genre, and non-fiction; and the Red Balloon doing the same for kids. The new space is more open than the old one on Broadway and right off the new museum reach of the River, easier to get to in some ways, harder in others. I hope they can draw tourist business there. I hope I sell a book soon, the budget eases up, and I can go more often.

The trouble is, I'm a book magnet. It doesn't matter how resolute I am. They practically mob me. Subjects I didn't know anything about, authors with which I am familiar, new work in an area I'm already interested in, random pictures of megafauna - I'm telling you, it's not my fault. The only way to avoid them is to stay away from them.

So I tend to stay away from the Red Balloon, even though it's one of my favorite places, and fill my reading needs at the library, where the books are free and I can take them back rather than building another room onto my house to fit them all in. When I'm as rich as J.K. Rowling, I'm not buying any castles; I'm just going to buy the bungalows on either side of us and fix them up as library annexes to our house, and then I'll adopt the Horn Book and once-a-month trip routine.

Please, when you come to San Antonio, visit the Red Balloon and spend money there, so it'll still be there when that happy day arrives!

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