Where Have All the Classics Gone?

Our local chain bookstore has some pretty serious floor space. The downtown versions of this store are huge. So why do I have to order all my books online? Why can’t I find classic, reasonably well-known books in these giant warehouses? Why can’t I just stop in  and pick up, for instance, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, or Nicolaides’  The Natural Way to Draw? Nicolaides’ is THE book on drawing, and it has never been out of print since the 1930’s. In fact, it’s listed as a “top seller” in the online store.

Retail floor space has been given over to bestsellers and bargain bin books. Retail is no longer about selection, but about the latest “hot picks”. It’s the same thing when you want to rent a movie. You may not find that classic Gregory Peck flick, but there are 400 copies of Knocked Up on the wall. I don’t blame the retailers. They make a lot more money on bestsellers than they do on enduring classics, and shelf space in stores is at a premium.

What I do object to is the quality of those bestsellers that push honest, well-written books out of the way. Does every celebrity and every moderately recognizable person have to write a book? Can’t we leave writing to, oh, I don’t know…writers? Timothy Egan’s December 6 New York Times column bemoans Joe the Plumber’s book deal. He nails it when he says, “The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.”

The world certainly is unfair when Joe the Plumber’s book can push Gerald Durrell off the shelf and into a centralized warehouse where no one will happen along and discover him for themselves. Thank goodness we still have libraries.

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~ by standupmimi on December 8, 2008.

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