Monthly Archives: November 2012

I have not read a book in three months!

As crazy as this might sound:  The president of the largest, 2nd oldest, and most frequently visited website dedicated to books written by or for African American readers has not read a complete book in the better part of three months.

It is not that I don’t read.  I read every single day.  I spend more time reading and writing than I do watching TV or even talking to other people.

Of course part of the reason I have not read a book from cover to cover is that I’m busy.  Virtually all of my time is spent doing something related to AALBC.com.  If I’m not engaged in AALBC.com related work, I’m hanging our with family and friends or doing something to stay in shape.

I’m never idle, you’ll never be able to call me up, ask what I’m doing, and get the response “nothing”.  If I’m watching TV is is usually because I’m too tried to do anything else — least of all read.

Lately I’ve been on a, largely ignored, rant about the state of the Black book business.  Some of my attention has been focused on the rapid closing of bookstores across the country, how important they are to communities and related issues.  Part of my motivation is the knowledge that websites will follow the course of the physical stores and we’ll, effectively, be back in the “pre-Terry McMillian” days when there were less than a handful of popular Black novelists telling a narrow range of stories.  Sure there will be an increasing number of books published each year, but it will be impossible to sort the good from the bad, and there will be virtually no platforms to spread the word — despite all the social media… but I digress.

The last time I walked into a book store, purchased a book (Toni Morrison’s Home), and read it from cover to cover, was this past summer.  Now I’ve purchased books, in stores since, but I have not finished reading any of them.

I’ve been “working” on Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns for 3 months — that is if you count “working” on it as it sitting on my nightstand for 3 months with the hope of being read someday.   Wilkerson’s tome isn’t lonely, there are at least 10 other books I’m “working” on to keep it company.

The books laying in wait include Robins Walker’s When we Ruled The Ancient and Medieval Civilizations (published in the US by Black Classic Press and Every Generation Media in the UK), Lorna Goodison’s critically acclaimed novel By Love Possessed, Allison Hobbs’ Put a Ring On It, who Zane described “The only woman on the planet freakier than me”, Kim Al-Khalili’s Black Holes Wormholes & Time Machines, one of many books pilfered from my kids’ room and De Cómo Tia Lola Vino de Visita a Quedarse by Julia Alvarez, a Spanish language children’s novel I want to read to improve my Spanish.  I picked up Alvarez’s book in a local independently owned bookstore, La Casa Azul Bookstore.

This not is my 1st period of protracted non-reading and I’m certain it will not be my last.  It is dry spells like these that I realize what a wonderful luxury it is to be able to sit down and enjoy a good book that you’ve selected for no other reason than pleasure, to escape, or to learn something new; a book that you can read without dozing because you’re drained from a working all day.

There have been times when I’ve been able to really immerse myself in the joys of reading.  A few years ago I went to the Dominican Republic for vacation; between the beach and the flight I was able to read 5 books in two weeks.  Unfortunately circumstances where I have extended periods of time, disconnected from technology and responsibility are increasing rare.

Yes, reading for pleasure is increasingly becoming a luxury activity, even for a guy with a really big website devoted to the activity.

Are Bookstores Relevant?

I recently conducted an on-line survey asking just one question: Are Bookstores Relevant?  Over 300 hundred people answered the question.  An overwhelming majority, almost 87% , said “Yes”.   Despite querying a demographic that is 100% online, the vast majority felt brick and mortar bookstores are indeed relevant.

My motivation for asking the question was an attempt to square what we say is important versus our collective actions.

I maintain a database of Black owned, independent bookstores, in the US.  As of today, the database includes 114 stores. This is down from a peak of over 300 over a decade ago.  If bookstores are relevant, why are we losing so many, so quickly?

If you believe bookstores are important, you have to support them.  It is our actions that matter; not what we feel, believe or even say.   The most obvious way to support a bookstore is to patronize one.  Check out our bookstore database (http://bit.ly/blackbookstores), visit one and purchase some books occasionally.

If you don’t live near a store, visit and support a website.  Here is a list of 45 different websites who, collectively, offer something for everyone: http://bit.ly/bestbooksites

Independently owned bookstores (physical and web-based) which sell book written by or about Black people are a crucial component to ensuring these book are published and reach the reader.

The Black book industry is in trouble.  We have lost more than 60% of our Black owned book stores in the last decade.  There are fewer Black book websites in 2012 than there were in 2002.  Many of the bookstores and websites that remain are struggling.   Of course there are many factors for this situation.  Fortunately all of these factors can be addressed and we can improve our situation.

Before we can do anything, we have to recognize there is a problem.  Unfortunately we don’t have enough platforms, conscious enough, to inform people about the adverse changes taking place.   People without information have no incentive to act — until it is too late.

If you believe in the relevance of bookstores please spread the word and support a store.

If you are an author, publisher, avid reader, or advocate for Black books please feel free to email me directly at troy@aalbc.com to discuss in more detail or brainstorm additional strategies.

Troy’s Note:
Of course there is another bias in my survey:  It was posted on AALBC.com.  As a result the respondents skew toward readers — individuals who are more likely to feel bookstores are relevant.  Of course these are also the people most inclined to do something to support bookstores; an action I’d argue benefits everyone, not just readers.

Below are some of the comments left by people who participated in the survey:

“Browsing is still very important Gathering together to exchange information is still important”

“It’s where you can meet authors & network with other book clubs and get information about new & old books.”

“I like to inspect a product before I buy it.”

“I get such pleasure from entering a book store, seeing beautiful books with creative images, titles and colors that begin to tell a book’s story,then feeling the book in my hands while reading or perusing the book.”

“because children like them”

“I love browsing in book stores and getting to meet the authors that come out for book signings.”

“Absolutely, unequivocally YES!!!! I have more books in my house right now than I have physical food. I say physical food because books and the words in them have been my spiritual food for more than 55 years. Even when I am on vacation I sink out the nearest bookstore (new and used) and library. Bookstore owners are like griots in my mind, everyone from the small stacked to the ceiling bookstore in Claremont during my undergraduate days to the Ligons at Antiquarian bookstore in Los Angeles and Mayme Clayton’s garage in the West Adams area, to Moondance in Santa Monica, and to Eso Won on its journey from Slauson Avenue to Leimert Park, and all of the many bookstores in between.”

“I love bookstores. Always have. I’m 71-years old. But now, all my book purchases are from Amazon.”

“You can find comfort in a bookstore.”

“Bookstores are relevant to individuals who are ardent readers and for whom reading is a recurrent recreational activity.”

“They allow you to browse physical books.”

“bookstores are places to relax and meet like minded people”

“Bookstores are not just “relevant’, they are essential!”

“The most comforting thing is to stroll through books as I meet other readers in a book store. There are the most interesting conversations to be had sometime over a cup of coffee. A book store gives us the opportunity to exchange ideas on the spot about the author or the book. On a rainy or cold day this is where I may be found cruising the shelves.”

“There is something comforting about being with other people who love to read.”

“Independent non-chain are the best!”

“i love them and i am only ten its so fun to read”

“There’s nothing like leafing through the pages of a book or magazine.”

“they are relevant.”

“Though I greatly admire technology, I still very much enjoy the look of worn and labored-through pages of the collection of books on my shelves.”

“They are indeed relevant. There is too, too much reliability on technology and electronics today. Bookstores at one time were adventurous, allusive, inclusives of life. Somehow, that energy must become one once more. Bookstores of specialties implore the adventures of mystery, fantasy, science fiction, as well as many non-fiction titles. The problems of Bookstores of today is mass production of non-talented people who are pushed to sell books instead of meeting with customers and forming life friends. Also, there are people who are prejudice against many authors. Believe me, if I ever start a bookstore it will be of care, happiness, and kindness to customers.”

“They are a source of knowledge.”

“Very relevant especially to young people”

“You will often have questioned regarding a various subject or author. So there needs to be a place for one to ask these and other question you may have. Hard to find books or books no longer in publication .”

“Bookstores will always have a place in a democracy as an intimate and honest place to gather, share ideas, explore. Also, for the bibliophile, nothing surpasses the tactile experience of page turning.”

“Personally, I would rather have a hardcover than download book. Customer service is unbeatable.”

“Of Course one of the ways to really get into the atmosphere appreciation of the literary world. with time a person becomes one with that world.”

“IT COMES IN handy..but when ordering on line most of the time you get pay later plan”

“Bookstores still remain relevant.”

“where else can you have authors sign books for your collections. a valuable in time. especially if you know the author personally.”

“Like newspapers, the outlets will shrink, yet the media platform will remain essential for learning, entertainment and community building.”

“absolutely”

“essential!”

“Especially if bookstores allow a space to sip coffee and read. Indescribable!”

“HELL TO THE YES!!! ALWAYS”

“Casual book browsing”

“absolutely..it’s more than just a physical transaction that takes place there.”

“Most of them need to change from places where people go to buy books to community centres for book people who buy books. That is something we cannot get online.”

“especially for Women, African American Americans, and other segments of the population often overlooked by mainstream publishing. Thank you for asking.”

“Love to mark up books and be able to pull them from the shelf and flip throug pages. Digital is not as intimate.”

“Absolutely, especially independent bookstores whether brick/mortor or online! I support Copperfield’s and Book Passage in northbay ca as well as Hueman Books”

“For readers, yes For authors, no”

“Unless they provide an atmosphere that makes browsing an interesting experience, book stores no longer serve a need.”

“Not everyone has Internet access or wants to trade paper books for e-books.”

“The atmosphere & the smell of the books.”

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