The Girl in the Iron Mask by Peter O'Donnell and Enric Badia Romero
Underground Reading: 361 by Donald Westlake

Amazon and Achieving the Moral Middle Ground

a thingSo here's a thing - not sure if it is blog-worthy or not, but if it isn't written, it won't happen. 

I had a really nice chat in a bookshop the other day. I was leering at Moleskines (Hobbit Moleskines, in fact, because that's how I roll), as was another guy. We chatted a bit about the notebooks - how we use them (or don't), how silly they are (but we get them anyway), how many we have (way too many), etc. Dude had 28 notebooks. Which sounds extreme, but then he explained that he has one for each project - whenever he's got a new scheme, he gets a new notebook. Awesome idea, and were I 1/8000th as organised, I'd follow suit. (My notebooks? I try to keep them magical and inviolate, but inevitably tear out pages, jot down to-do lists, etc. Ruined.)

Anyway, it was a silly conversation and I've had a thousand just like them in bookstores all over the world. Sometimes they happen with the staff. Sometimes with other customers. Sometimes at events. Hell, sometimes I even manage to have meaningful conversations with other readers at events that I've organised (for those of you that have seen me in full fret at one of our events, you know how rare that is...)

I've worked in bookstores on and off my entire life. As a kid, my mom would drop me off at the local used bookshop while she ran errands, and, three hours later, return to find me alphabetising things. My first paid part-time job was at a Barnes & Noble - they hired me because I was spending all my time there anyway; easier than training someone from scratch.

When I first moved to London, I earned my all-important pints-and-clubbing cash by working part time in a tiny campus bookstore. I pioneered a sales technique that involved blasting house music through the shop's tiny, tiny speakers and then flogging Rough Guides and Irvine Welsh to the wide-eyed students it attracted.

All of that is irrelevant, except to say that I've had thousands and thousands of conversations in bookstores with total strangers. Sometimes about books, sometimes about notebooks, sometimes about music or Arsenal or shoes or travel or post-structuralist interpretations of Houllebecq (ok, that last one is a lie). But, when it comes down to it, bookshops offer more than the serendipity of finding a good book - they also offer the chance to find a good conversation and, well, god alone knows where that could lead. 

(And no, I don't mean that, although I will grant that many glossy magazines all suggest that if you want to meet a quality romantic partner, go to a bookshop. It makes much more sense than the traditional 'grocery store' chat-up, which hasn't made sense since 1952.)

The only reason I'm even thinking this - much less writing it - and, eventually, maybe doing something - is because I chatted with a lovely guy about Moleskines for four minutes in a Blackwell's. (Incidentally, they're 2 for 3 right now, which makes them, in Moleskine terms, affordable.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I'm going to stop shopping on Amazon. I know there are better reasons to stop using the site: neo-Nazi taskmasters, troublesome working conditions, tax avoidance, hoarding data like it is going out of style... those are all strong, moral reasons.

But this is the selfish one I choose: I want to go to bookshops more. Not because I like books (which I do), but because I like people. If I go to more bookshops, I meet more people. And, scarily, if our bookshops go away, we not only lose lovely places filled with fascinating objects, we lose all the conversations we ever could've had within them. 

(Sadly, this won't stem to selling - more Pandemonium books sell on Amazon in a week than sell on all other platforms combined in a quarter. This isn't my money, we're a non-profit: I'm not going to hose our authors and our charity partner's proceeds.)