Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Traveling? Book it !

Some people buy themselves a new outfit or piece of jewelry or a schlocky souvenir on every trip. Me? I buy a book, often a few books. Not so exciting for a writer, huh?

Thing is, I make it a point, on every trip I take, to buy a book from an independent bookstore. Which means I first have to find an independent bookstore, which usually means I need to walk around in whatever new place I find myself (which helps a very little bit to offset the other thing I bring back from every trip -- extra pounds -- but that's another story.).

So -- I ask around, look around, take a walk, and usually always manage to find an independent bookstore no matter where I am. Like last week. Too hot to sit on the beach with my husband and kids, I wandered the little New Jersey shore town of Manasquan and stumbled upon Booktowne. Forty-five minutes later, I left with a memoir-disguised-as-a-novel for me and a Yankees history for my teen son.

'Course I buy books all the time -- a few times a week, at least. But truth told, most of my book purchases are through the B&N website for a couple of reasons. I buy far too many books and earn far too little to pay full retail and my BN membership gets me 10 % percent more off their discounted prices, once I spend the first $250/year (and believe me, that happens real fast). Charge it to the BN Mastercard, and I save another five percent. Second, if I leave my house/office to visit a bricks-and-mortar store (any kind of a store) I invariably spend two, three or 10 times the amount I intended (and can afford). Third, since I live close to the BN warehouse, my books arrive fast -- often in less than 36 hours. Fourth, through the BN site I can get used books for a lot less. And when you are an MFA student, or just an extremely avid (rabid) reader, that's extremely useful.

OK, but this is not an advertisement for the big box/big site book purveyors. Just the opposite. It's a reminder to support the independent bookseller. Huh? Yes, I do that too.

I do patronize the independent bookstores closest to my home, Watchung Booksellers. When I'm out and about, I'll stop in the only other three I know of within 15 miles and if you're wondering if I buy something then too, you haven't been paying attention. So I try to spread my book buying around so that the independent bookshops get some of it. When I attend a reading or other literary event at one of them, I always buy a book while there. Always. Usually two.

But it's when I am out of town, away from my usual routines, that I gravitate exclusively to the independents. I love the challenge of finding the local bookstore, and I have found a bunch of great ones. Last month I discovered Gulf of Maine, which gets my award for cramming in the largest number of really good books and aggressively supporting the local writing community and publishing economy.

Plunk me down in unfamiliar territory and I will find the most comforting place around, the bookstore. I love walking in, the smell, the hush. I browse, get lost in the stacks, and I buy something. Something to read on the beach, something I never would have thought of looking for but there it was, something by a local author. A book. Not lobster earrings, flamingo glasses or a tee shirt with an oddball slogan. And since one or both of my sons are usually with me when I visit a bookstore, chances are we leave with three books instead of one.

As travel rituals go, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

When You Gotta Go (and write about it)

Sometimes we want to talk about something just because it's fun, or because we want to vent or (try to) be witty, or we just have to get something out of our heads, and because we are writers, of course, we do so in print. That's what I did when I got very, very tired of being ribbed about needing to use the, ahem, facilities, seemingly all the time. It's a short read (just like all visits to the aforementioned facilities). And, you get to discover, if you haven't already, a nifty little site for short bursts of personal writing.