I soon graduated to reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, some from the Forest Hills, Queens NY branch of the public library, and others bought and shared with two friends. Yes, a little book club. Two favorites were The Shore Road Mystery and The Yellow Feather Mystery. I have never lost my desire for mysteries, suspense, and espionage stories all the way to finishing Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson (yes) last week, beginning Death In Summer by Benjamin Black (yes!), AKA John Banville, this week, and getting bogged down in The Return of John Emmet (no) in between.
But, why am I telling you this? Well, I just want to share a few bona fides regarding my love of reading, books, bookshops, and what is known in general as trade publishing. Publishing has been experiencing paradigm changes since Amazon was born, and those changes are accelerating today, with Amazon itself becoming a publisher in addition to being an online distributor of new and used titles.
I once worked for a large media/publishing empire. About twenty years ago, I was dispatched up to Boston to meet with the administrator of a smallish world-renowned trade publisher we owned in order to help them reduce costs. I was received in their beautiful brick house/office, which overlooked the Common and Public Garden, as if I had been the chief of a book-burning brigade in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
They had little regard for profits, which were considered, if at all, as a lucky by-product of their noble cause, and less regard for the behemoth media conglomerate who now reigned over them and had dispatched me. Consequently, they treated me very politely, very agreeably, but turned out to be masterful passive-aggresives as soon as I went out the door.
Soon after, the media conglomerate moved that little publisher to a centralized book unit HQ in New York and brought in a publishing heavy-weight from a dreaded super-commercialized publishing "house" to run the whole thing. He did so, with a vengeance. In fact, he did it so well, the media giant was able to sell it off after a few years to another global publisher.
And that guy who headed the whole thing? He is now in charge of Amazon's new publishing unit and is much-hated, at least for now, by independent booksellers and trade publishers (except for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has a deal with Amazon).
You didn't make much dough in publishing, but you got to feel superior to a lot of people, and that was a pretty good deal to the right kind of person, especially certain people who had migrated to Manhattan from afar to become important and influential, not to mention have long lunches. This little world was ripe for someone like Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and now Jeff Bezos's Amazon to come around and thumb their noses at the whole thing, just the way Jobs did to Big Music, and the cell-phone industry.
Now, irony of ironies, trade publishing's newest hero is none other than...Barnes & Noble? Yes, because it's troubled brick and mortar stores, new Nook reader, and its online empire make it, if not exactly a friend, at least the enemy of publishing's biggest current enemy, Amazon, who is signing up big name authors and wants to own the Whole Shebang. Bezos doesn't like sharing any more than Gates or Jobs did.
I love independent bookshops and frequent them whenever I have a chance: Diane's in Greenwich CT, The Mysterious Bookshop, McNally Jackson, Crawford Doyle, all in Manhattan. I was also a very early user of Amazon and its brilliant, patented 1-Click purchase. I have been underwhelmed over the years by Amazon's customer service and disappointed in its aggressor attitude towards indies, which pose little threat to it, but add such richness to our lives.
In publishing, McLuhan was wrong; the medium is not the message, the story is the message.
It is up to us to decide what story we want, how we want it, when we want it, and how much it is worth to us. The rest, as Pound wrote, is dross.
This story has a long way to go yet. Meanwhile, keep reading.