A Trip to the Bookstore

It has been months - maybe more than a year - since I've been in the local bookstore. We only have one in Moncton, an Indigo-Chapters store, at Crystal Palace.

The amusement park in Crystal Palace is closing down soon, to be replaced by an outdoor store. The movie theatres were renovated and now face away from the amusement park. The hotel and restaurant are closing. So the bookstore is probably on its last legs, even without the financial troubles of its parent.

I've had my criticisms of the bookstore before. In particular, in the past I've been disappointed with the number of books on religion in the science section. I've also been disappointed with the feeble philosophy section.

And in general, I was disappointed with the gradual elimination of books from the bookstore, and the gradual re-emphasis on cheap gifts and faux-leather notebook covers.

Today's visit reconfirmed the trend, sadly. I'd be surprised if the chain (let alone the individual store) is around in five years.

I first checked the features. It being back-to-school time, the featured books were about thinking and creativity. That was actually a good thing and I was encouraged by this.

I didn't bother with the books on getting organized, but I did pick up a copy of Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind. In particular, I wanted to study the chapter on 'the pattern recognition theory of mind,' which readers will know is an approach I have also advocated over the years.

I was hesitant, thinking that I might prefer a digital version. But I am, very wary - my Microsoft Video player still won't play my videos, after four weeks of trying to fix it, and I didn't feel like buying a book I can't read.

This is a long-term problem that I don't know how I am going to address, because it means that products from Microsoft - software, audio, video, books - are unreliable, and may disappear at any moment, without recourse or compensation.

If the problem were unique to Microsoft, I would just switch to Apple or Google. But these companies too make your stuff disappear without notice (the iMovie software I bought for my MacBook computer, for example, was forever wrecked by upgrades that disabled more and more functionality, while Google can make your blog disappear on the basis of a phone call).

I looked at the eBook Readers in the store. Of the six or seven on display, only one was working. It was an old still big-text reader that had only 50 or so words on the screen. At that size, I would be turning a page every five seconds, which renders it unusable. There was no indication of what books are available (so I could not know, for example, whether the Kurzweil book was available).

It seems so silly to me. If I were in the business of selling books, I'd focus on a really cheap reader with standard reading software and a USB or SD-RAM slot, and then I'd sell every book there is on its own stick or card. My bookstore would look more like an Apple store, but instead of browsing computers, you could browse eBooks.

So I did not linger long at the eBook stand. I wandered to the back of the store, and noted the very busy Crystal Palace amusement park and the long line at the Starbucks. This used to be a good idea - you could browse the books you were interested in while having a Latté. But now books are not allowed in the Starbucks, so people are there mostly for the free wireless.

Continuing to browse, I noticed that the relogion books are gone from the science section, but so it most everything else. It used to occupy an entire row, but now it's down to one shelf, and focuses mostly on physics and biology. Most of the biology section is stuff on creationism versus evolution. There are some good picture books in the astronomy section.

It occurred to me that you would never come to the bookstore to learn anything. The stuff that's there is mostly superficial and survey literature.

The children's section now occupies a full corner of the store and features bright colours and big print. It is adjacent to an equally large teen section. This Chapters has really been focusing on younger readers, which I would applaud of I felt these younger readers were getting books worthy of their time.

Another full quarter of the store is devoted to fiction and literature, which is par for the course. I was surprised to see the science fiction section expanded, and even more surprised to find it separated from a now equally large fantasy section. The titles, alas, are mostly from TV shows and movies, with a few of the standards thrown in.

I browsed a bit looking for the recent Hugo Award winner - I couldn't remember the title, but I did recall that one book won the Hugo, Nebula and Clarke awards this year. But there was nothing highlighting recent, or even good, science fiction (I have since learned that the novel is Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie). I'm not sure it was even on the shelf.

I continued to browse. As always, the self-help section was very large. I notice, though, that unlike its previous placement, among non-fiction books and near psychology, it was now directly across the aisle from an equally large romance novels section. I'm not sure if I'm so cynical as to think that this was deliberate, but I'm not so naive as to think it was not.

I checked the audio books. I was interested because on my 120K bike ride the other day I passed the time listening to an audio recording of War and Peace - or, more accurately, the fist book of War and Peace (I didn't even get to the war yet!). It had taken quite a while to find it - most of the results were come-ons for Audible.com, which would cost money (I was searching on mobile phone; if you search on computer you hardly see the audible.com results at all). I finally found the free LibriVox version, which was OK but not ideal (chapters 21 and 22 were absolutely ruined by a bedtime story reader called miette).

But war and Peace was not there, nor were most books. I saw a couple of Gladwells that would cost me $50 for 6 CDs, which seemed to me to be remarkable (have they not yet discovered DVDs, or the aforementioned USB sticks or SDRAM cards?). After spending some time moving the books about heaven from 'non-fiction' to 'fiction' I quickly moved on.

It should not be surprising that the computer book section has been absolutely devastated. Again, you would not go to this section to learn anything - at best, the books could be considered references. Today, if you're studying computer science - programming, design, concepts - you're studying online. This section reflects that, and there was nothing for me to even browse.

Nearby was a "men's interest" section which consisted entirely of books about war. I was a bit surprised by that.

In the same corner of the store is the francophone section. For a bookstore that is located in Dieppe, which is the capital of Acadian culture, for such a small section to exist has to be a constant source of disappointment.

Finally, I looked for travel books - I have trips planned for places like Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Armenia this fall, and I like to be prepared ahead of time. I picked up a phrasebook on Brazilian Portuguese. There was nothing on Armenia, which wasn't surprising. But I was floored by the fact that the 'Middle East' section consisted only of six or seven books on Jerusalem and Israel. There was nothing on the rest of the Middle East (let alone Saudi Arabia).

I bought my two books and left the store, probably for the last time. I won't miss it when it closes.


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