10 Reasons Why You Should Buy Your Books Locally

Whether we like it or not, Amazon.com has become the interface of the new commerce. And while there are a things that I think Amazon.com does extremely well, especially in terms of its broad marketplace of products, it's endless library of customer reviews that can be really helpful (predating Yelp by like a decade), especially when not sockpuppeted, at the same time, it's impossible for any company to excel in every department, which is a good segue I think to why you should buy your books locally for the holidays + forever after:

1. Every time you buys books locally, you help support small businesses (and small business are actually people's dreams made real), which means you're helping support your city, which means you're helping support a neighborhood in your city--those are already good enough reasons. For every semester at SC, I'd print out my long list of books for my graduate seminars + take the subway to Skylight Books in Los Feliz + order a shitload of books. And after I'd dropped like $500-$600 for books for my field exams recently, Meg, one of the savvy, charming bibliophiles working there, said to me: --Hey, thanks for paying for my job. And then it hit me how interconnected local businesses + individual needs are . . .

2. No matter how cheap the deals are on Amazon.com (et al.), saving a few dollars will never replace the material marketplace of culture + creativity inside physical bookstores. Bookstores are places where you can escape from your roommate who watches 15 hours of "Sex in the City," where you can look up shit in the Writer's Guide to Literary Journals, skim the next McSweeney's, shake your head at a dog-eared, mostly wrinkled copy of the New Yorker + sometimes "glance" at an already-open copy of Penthouse. Bookstores are safe spaces for intellectuals, artists, autodidacts, current event junkies + people-watchers. Bookstores are: 1/4 café, 1/4 library, 1/4 refuge + 1/4 transient hotel. If you're an aspiring writer, you need to see what people are buying on the new book shelf + what journals are publishing in your genre. Period (.).

3. Most of the time, the people working in indie bookstores are fucking passionate about books, passionate about reading + passionate about language, which is not only an amazing resource for you, but also, that kind of bibliophilia is infectious + exciting to be around.

4. Many indie bookstores are also showcases for both established + emerging literary fiction writers + poets. While the big chains can + do offer many of the same privileges (which is a great thing), small indie bookstores cater to great literary fiction. They tend to live + breathe it. On the other hand, at large chain bookstores, they are selling too many kinds of books to specialize in literary fiction/poetry: besides lots of great novels, there's also a lot of absolute shit, coloring books, cookbooks, badly ghost-written celebrity memoirs, romance novels with steroidal male bodies on the cover, CD's + DVD's, a million derivative vampire thrillers, James Patterson drivel, maps + atlases, already-clawed magazines, private journals with lockets, kindle knock-offs, nauseatingly cute animal calenders, even packets of Starbucks coffee, mugs + chocolate bars. And while I think it's great these stores exist to satisfy a larger demographic, not to mention, they routinely have little cafés too (which is rad), at the same time, only the indie bookstores fight the good fight each + every day, showcasing the best in literary writing on both the shelf + behind the mic. If indie bookstores perished in America, literary fiction/poetry would die. College campuses would then become the last protector of great literary art, further removing literary fiction from mainstream culture than it already is.

5. Small, local indie bookstores prove that writing still matters. It's easy as an emerging fiction writer to feel like your writing doesn't affect anyone anymore (except underpaid, overworked editors who reject our asses routinely), but walk into Powell's in PDX, for example, + you'll see right away that the stories we create, the stories we invent, the stories we live on, all have an impact, there's an infinite potentiality of language waiting to be discovered in the aisles, helping us remember that our own literary creativity still resonates with people on an important cultural level

6. Buying books locally is an investment in tangibility in the floating world. While personally I think it's an awesome fucking world we live in when you can download a kindle version of virtually any novel in the whole world + while I think eNovels are also ecologically responsible + also intellectually practical in terms of giving us the ability to carry our entire library with us, at the same time, there are many traditionalists (myself included) who will never get over our love affair with physical books, the intoxication of the smell of a new (old) novel, the way that words have an actual weight in your hand (or in your backpack or purse), the way that pages can be folded, touched, flipped back + forth (a soft splash of air hitting us between the eyes every time), the way paragraphs can be scarred with violent marginalia, even the sound of a book triumphantly plopped on a table after we've finished reading it helps us stay grounded to materiality. All of these things matter, especially in a world where once-concrete objects are now becoming more + more graphic, more iconic, more visual, less tangible--an entire world reduced to jpg.'s, word + pdf files, organized + contained within desktop folders + attachments. And while I think that readers should never have to choose between hard + digital copies, there's something to be said about the intimacy of a physical novel, the way it becomes the center of your life inside your satchel, the way it captures your attention as you pass your bookcase in the hallway years later + suddenly remember the 2-7 days you loved no one else.

7. Indie bookstores foster a sense of community. While there are plenty of valid, seasonal reasons to order books online from time to time (e.g. avoiding holiday crowds or long lines at the post office where you'll drop a shitload of money sending books priority mail or waiting a small eternity for the media rate to do its fucking job), I personally think these situations should be exceptional. It's great we can do so much shit online, but the more we spend behind our computers, the less connected we are with people in the physical world, the less we know how to be human socially (+ writers are intrinsically social artists on one important level since writing involves people + it involves readers). And while large megastores chains are great for anonymity + sheer breadth of selection, smaller indie bookstores are crucial in giving all of us misfits a place to meet up together + exist. Small local bookstores, at their best, becomes subcultures for an art form that doesn't know how to die.

8. Indie bookstores don't bully the publishing market the way the big chains do, they support it. Barnes & Noble, until recently, Borders, didn't just sell books, they actually controlled a large chunk of the marketplace. Editors, for example, use(d) the various sales rankings of the big chains (among other things) in order to not only gauge current projects, but to examine future book projects (e.g. "well, this author's last novel never made it to the superstore rankings list . . ."). Publishing houses actively swoon/charm/coddle the big chains because they know that if they can get them to buy a ton of their books, the big chains will actively try selling the books they've invested in, which means those books become more visible because they're marketed, which often means more people buy those books because they're more visible, which makes those books profitable (helping both the large chain + the publishing house), which makes that author a good future investment. And when the big chains aren't interested in a new novel, that novelist's career becomes endangered with poor sales. But not so with indie bookstores who don't give a shit about Nielson Bookscan stats, NYT bestseller rankings, or other dubious metrics of so-called literary talent where great art poses as sales figures (as if great writing could ever be quantified). Small, locally-owned, indie bookstores only care about great writing, plain + simple. And the reality is that aspiring writers need to embrace locally owned, indie bookstores because they are the greatest allies of literary fiction in this whole world.

9. Local, indie bookstores can be meccas for beautiful, articulate, eccentric, stylish, smart, critical-thinking post-hipster hipsters who make reading sexy. 'Nuff said.

10. Your local bookstore is a sanctuary in our bustling word. Inside the aisles, time stops. Like a Borgesian paradise, bookstores are wrinkles of time-travel, passing moments of linguistic rapture + personal evolution. Your local bookstore is the place where you can be anything you want, a babel of narrative voices chanting from the pages, where the din of impatient drivers outside is muted by the soft, slow, sensuality of words circling around you, rushing to meet your eyes with every open book + smother you in an orgy of details.

Tin House, Heidi Durrow + the Bellwether Prize

1. Tin House is pissing me off right now. No, it's true + I'm not afraid to say it, even if I do love the journal. I'm not even talking about the fact that unsolicited fiction goes to PDX and agented fiction goes to NYC--what is this? Fiction apartheid? Anyway, that's a different topic all together. No, what's pissing me off right now about Tin House is that I sent them one of my best stories, "Neologism." This is the story that got me into USC's PhD program in Lit + Creative Writing (almost accepted at FSU), the same story that a fiction editor from the Iowa Review told me he really enjoyed reading + that the managing editor of One Story admired very much. So empirically, I know that story rocks (i.e., it's not just me who thinks it's an awesome story). But that's not even what's pissing me off. "Neologism" is one of my favorite stories because it deals with class, race + love in SoCal, a topic + focus that just isn't dealt with that much. And sure enough, 2-3 months after I sent them my manuscript, I look at Tin House's website, and they have a call to submissions for stories dealing with class. And I gotta admit: I started thinking, all right, maybe this is the perfect break I've been looking for; one of my best stories submitted at a major literary journal that is asking for the very theme I wrote about in my manuscript. For a second, I thought, maybe this is the conspiracy of success every writer needs to break through. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, this is gonna be it.

Then, I get my rejection a few days ago + not even a good rejection. The same form rejection I get everytime from them. And the crazy thing is: the idea for "Neologism" I got from reading an Aimee Bender story in Tin House back in 2007 about two girls that go to the mall. Now, I could never write Aimee Bender the way Aimee Bender writers Aimee Bender. I love her writing + her voice is beautiful, touching + untouchable that way. But the idea, the setup, an aspect of my voice, all of that was directly inspired from reading one of her stories in Tin House + Tin House doesn't even consider my story for whatever reason, and it's a story that deals with white privilege, high school bullies + racism in Southern California. I don't fucking get it! I know this sounds like sour grapes, but it's a great story. Why can't Tin House pick jewels out of the rough? Why do I harbor such irrational hope in that journal when everyone knows that most of the shit they publish is agented fiction? Why did I think they would be different?

2. The bad news kept coming this week. After attending Heidi Durrow's reading of her debut novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky at Skylight Books (which was one of the best fiction readings I've attended in years--more on that later), I told her I'd entered BLANK in the Bellwether Prize + she asked me if I was a finalist + I told her I didn't know because I hadn't heard anything yet. And when I got outside, I went to the web page of the Bellwether Prize + there were the titles that had made it to the shortlist + BLANK wasn't one of them. God, I was so bummed. Again, why did I think BLANK would be a finalist? Because I think that every time I enter a contest. I wouldn't enter a contest that I honestly thought I didn't have a chance of winning. Otherwise, it's just a donation. But it's funny, I had this feeling after talking to Heidi at the booksigning table, a feeling I know very well of things having been decided, and not in my favor. I could just feel it inside. But ironically, she'd wished me luck with the prize inside my copy of her novel + then once I was walking to the subway, I looked up the results + I was pretty damn sad.

I'm still waiting to hear from the Bakeless Prize though. + if BLANK doesn't win--+ I'm not expecting it to though I believe it's as worthy as the other novels--I'll send it to some of the better indie presses like SoHo, Graywolf, Soft Skull, maybe even FC2, though it's not heterdox enough for them I imagine, and see what happens.

3. Strangely enough, seeing Heidi Durrow read her novel (that won the 2008 Bellwether Prize) gave me hope. For one thing, like I said before, I thought her reading was fantastic. She had a command of her delivery, had memorized much of the text, which allowed her to make eye contact with the audience + she was charismatic, charming, smart + funny. I'm happy she won the prize in 2008. It made me happy + gave me hope to see an emerging writer break out into the publishing sky, something I hope to do some day.

After chatting with her for a second before her reading + then asking her a question about Nella Larsen + passing + biracial identitification in the Q + A, I waited in line to get her to sign my copy of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, and when I finally made it to the table, she smiled, hit her palms on the table + said:

--Who are you? Laughing.

I have to say, I really enjoyed talking with her + I thought her reading was awesome. Leaving Skylight, before I looked up the results of the contest, I felt two distinct things:

One, good things do happen to good people (which is profoundly reassuring). They just have to persevere + keep writing + editing + putting themselves out there. Eventually, reality colludes to help that writer make it if s/he has what it takes to deal with the constant rejection (hello Tin House!).

Two, with all due respect, I also left the bookstore feeling like more than ever, I can do this. I don't know how much work is ahead of me (doesn't matter cuz I'll do it), but I can live my dream of being a great literary fiction writer, just like Heidi Durrow, just like all authors that are obscure before the clouds open up for them. + I just have to keep working for that day. It'll happen, I just don't know when yet. So until then, I fight on because that's how I do. I never give up on the things I love + there's nothing I love more than writing (except people + love itself)