Bellied-up to the bar at The Cave recently in a rare moment of rest, I had the pleasure of sharing a beer with Pete. If you like books, but don’t know Pete, you should head as soon as possible to McIntyre’s in Fearrington Village. He is the best bookseller I’ve ever met and if there were a quantitative measure to bookselling, I’d like to see his world ranking. Often when he tells me about a book he’s reading I become so covetous to read it myself it may be a sin.
And of course, since like finds like, Pete and I were talking books or, more specifically, book business. Because there aren’t just books, there’s a book world, and it’s large and has some dark places. And recently a war has broken out. It’s one of those “price wars,” where, supposedly, the only wounds are deep discounts. The war’s over books, just ten particular books, which Wal-Mart last Thursday decided to sell for $10. Amazon followed suit hours later. And as those things go, the ten books now retail for $8.98. These are new, hardcover books from the likes of Stephen King, JD Robb, and John Grisham.
Now, I’m helping bring a bookstore into this book world. As I am sure an expectant father might look about and have momentary reservations about the world they’re bringing a child into, I too felt it. So, of course, I ordered another beer. Keg was tapped on my choice. I asked the bartender for a recommendation and she let me taste a couple until I found a suitable replacement. I almost just ordered a PBR—I know what it tastes like and it’s the cheapest. But I was in the mood for a good beer.
I wish I could say the analogy hit me right then, that having a good beer in a great bar with a helpful bartender and a good friend enlightened and reinvigorated me to the prospect of the bookstore. It took me a few days to see it and the analogy falters in a few places, but a good bookstore does share much with a good bar. A beer at a bar does cost more than a beer at Harris Teeter. But at the bar, you get the atmosphere and the knowledge of the staff. There is no Pete at Wal-Mart dot com.
Where the analogy falters, though, I think there may be lessons. Perhaps, as the price war may indicate, there should be PBRs of the book world. Those authors who churn out a couple of books a year to the widest audience possible should be cheaper. Sometimes I am in the mood for a PBR book. More often, though, I prefer a good book like a good beer. And sure, I realize that people go to bars to meet people and find dates, but could I offer that love may be truer found over a stack of books than beside a litter of empties?