Are Bookstores Relevant?

by Lemon

I came across this opinion piece and was taken aback at the thought that Barnes & Noble may disappear. I love bookstores and love that there is a B&N five minutes from me. I often go with my kids so they can explore and find books that interest them. We’ve adapted to their changes (smaller store, much smaller kids section with no reading nooks or chairs to lose yourself in a book, and less staff), and it looks like we may have to adapt some more.

We are avid users of our library too but there is something about an outing to the bookstore that we love to do as family.

Would you be sad if Barnes and Noble closes? Do you think Amazon is to blame? Will you use the library more or seek out independent booksellers?


139 thoughts on “Are Bookstores Relevant?

  1. As a place to meet friends and have a drink, B&N is relevant. Otherwise, not at all. Maybe if I had small kids it would be different. I peruse, choose, and buy books online. Yes, a Kindle is so much better.

  2. Love love love Amazon bookstore, and my local hybrid cafe/used/new bookstore. Amazon has really spent a lot of energy curating books – I always find something I want, something unexpected. It’s not always new or wildly popular, but I’ve had such great success. Same with their kids section. They don’t have all the magic treehouse books, but they have careful unique volumes that get lost in other stores.

  3. Also, I think bricks and mortar Amazon is thriving. So maybe there just needs to be a different model.

  4. We have a Barnes and Nobles with beer and wine. They are popular as a place to meet up with friends, to go see author events, and kid activities. The school district partners with them often for events – for example, they are doing a middle school reading event soon, and the HS literary magazine has an end of year event there. I think that is the future for bookstores – more of a social place, like a library.

  5. My kids prefer B&N to the library, as the library does not have the latest Minecraft book. I’m hoping they grow out of this. I love bookstores and try to buy books at the independent stores near me, but their children’s books selection can be very limited so we also go to B&N.

    I just have not gotten into Kindles or otherwise reading books for pleasure on a screen. I even dropped Audible, as I prefer to read myself and not listen to others read. The only exception being a long car ride, which is rare for us.

  6. As it relates to bookstores, and in general, Amazon’s major weakness is that it’s not a fun platform to shop. The reviews make me suspicious (and are populated by idiots) and the selection drives me insane with choice fatigue.

    As for the modern economy of big box retailers, online retailers, impossibly low prices…well, I’m a fan. We just love a lot better as a result of it. DW was showing me a selection of wool rugs for the office from Overstock last night. It’s stunning how low the prices are.

    Buying a rug was a much bigger deal when I was a kid. They were things people bought to literally pass down for generations.

    I don’t know that this all necessarily makes us happier, but it certainly makes our life objectively more luxurious.

  7. I like bookstores because they don’t just push to my feed books based on what I have read. I like our local Half Price Books because they have staff do summaries of books they liked and why without spoilers. I like reading on paper because it is easier on my eyes. I have a few kindle books (prime perk), but they are a slog to get through. I do buy books online as well.

    Our Amazon book store is small, super crowded and not well laid out. It feels like a place to hurry in and hurry out of rather than to peruse.

  8. DW was showing me a selection of wool rugs for the office from Overstock last night. It’s stunning how low the prices are.

    We have two rugs, one under the dining table and the other under the coffee table and they were getting dirty. When all was said it done it was just easier and about the same price, to buy new ones rather than have them cleaned.

  9. Not to inject politics, but I wonder if Starbucks in B&Ns will experience problems now that they’re allowing non-customers to use their bathrooms and hang out in their stores. As it is, I always thought it was curious that I could go into a B&N, get a Starbucks latte, and hang out indefinitely reading any books from their shelves.

  10. “more of a social place, like a library.”

    Not if people don’t actually buy their stuff. Kids from the local schools singing Christmas carols, authors talking every couple of weeks, moms listening to story time with their tots…none of that’s adding much shareholder value.

  11. “I wonder if Starbucks in B&Ns will experience problems now that they’re allowing non-customers to use their bathrooms and hang out in their stores.”

    This is how it already is at the B&N near me. All the nannies know to stop by B&N for a potty break, If they grab a coffee too, great for Starbucks.

  12. “none of that’s adding much shareholder value”

    Maybe the overpriced drinks and meals bring in enough revenue. Plus the stationery and gifts section. I don’t know, maybe that’s their model.

  13. I know this is controversial, but I do not miss independent bookstores. There is this nostalgia about them that has little to do with reality. Sure, if you lived in San Francisco or Boston or New York City in the 70’s and 80’s, you had a choice of quirky yet intellectual independent bookstores. If you lived near a major university, you might have a couple near campus too. But for most of us, bookstores in that era were either the store in the shopping plaza that sold Harlequin romances, the latest bestsellers, coloring books, and inspirational plaques, or the Christian bookstore, or if you were lucky, some kind of small hippie store with treatises on yoga, macrobiotic recipe books, and candles. When Borders first appeared in the 90’s, I was in heaven. They had university press books, lots of them. I had never seen a bookstore outside of Cambridge MA that stocked lots of university press titles. We would drive an hour to get to the nearest one and spend tons of time and way too much money. Borders gave access to so many more reading choices for people living in the suburbs.
    I was an early adopted of Amazon too. I started buying books there in the mid 90’s, not long after they started.

  14. July – There is an alliance between Starbucks and B&N – notice you can’t use your starbucks gift card or points at the store in a store, but you can use your B&N discount. I think B&N is controlling the property/setting store rules, so I think they would also set “bathroom” rules.

  15. “Maybe the overpriced drinks and meals bring in enough revenue”

    Compared to a freestanding Starbucks, they would appear to have much lower sales volume (especially considering there’s no drive thru), and the retail space that the entire bookstore requires is immense.

    Busboys and Poets has pursued the more restaurant/bookstore model, but they’re expensive, and I think they’re priced higher than what could be feasible for B&N’s 600 (mostly suburban?) stores.

  16. My problem with the local B&N is parents allowing their kids to run around and wrinkle/mess up the books.

    I prefer the library. On the rare occasions that I purchase books, I go to Half Price Books or Amazon.

  17. Milo, I think the model is to drive interest in the books and products. People can come in, have a glass of wine, and let their kids surf through the Naruto books. Kid will want to buy one for sure, but later will beg for more, which can be purchased easily from the website with the coupon you received in email.
    It is the same reason that Amazon has a bricks and mortar store in Manhattan

  18. I love libraries and essentially grew up in them. My kids do all the library activities. My two oldest are on the teen advisory board. But I was racking up so much money in fines. After a bill for $60, I had to put an end to it. The loan periods are too short, I prefer to read on my Kindle anyway, and their service for borrowing e-books is annoying and hard to use.

  19. “Milo, I think the model is to drive interest in the books and products. People can come in, have a glass of wine…”

    I know, but it’s apparently not working.

    We love B&N, my kids love going there, it’s a fun outing.

    For us, it’s near Target. It occupies almost as much retail space. But if you stand in the front of Target, there’s a continuous stream of customers at the multiple checkouts. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep at the registers, nonstop. A never ending stream of revenue.

    Barnes and Noble has one register open, and rarely much of a line. The dowdy cashier is kind of slow, always trying to type in the phone number for your discount. People are lounging around the store, getting their grubby fingers all over the merchandise, trading it, putting it back (probably in the wrong spot).

    Which business do you want to invest in? Both have a Starbucks, btw.

  20. ” I think that is the future for bookstores – more of a social place, like a library.”

    I think so too. I used to go to Borders/B&N regularly to browse, hang out & kill time 10 and 20 years ago. I also bought books there. Now, I am fully converted to Kindle, and I get 90% of my own books through the public library with the other 10% coming from Amazon. We have a new/used independent bookstore near us with a large selection including a giant kids room, and I do go there for gifts. DS and DH are also heavy users of the library, and DS has an old kindle of mine so he’ll get ebooks too. DH’s esoteric history books are mostly unavailable as an eBook from the library, so he mostly reads physical books.

    People talk about how they get such great, personal service from independent bookstores, but I’ve never really experienced that. I do enjoy browsing and attending events. I think Goodreads is the best thing to come around in seeking out good books in my lifetime – I LOVE it.

    “As it relates to bookstores, and in general, Amazon’s major weakness is that it’s not a fun platform to shop. The reviews make me suspicious (and are populated by idiots) and the selection drives me insane with choice fatigue.”

    Amazon is really a horrible website to shop. Everything about the interface is awful from the search to the filters to the crazy reviews/Q&A. Not to mention the counterfeit products and suspect 3rd party sellers. Almost every other online retailer does a better job. And their app is no better. Meanwhile, Zappos, which they own, has a great app. I don’t get it. I guess they are making all their $$ off cloud services and prime fees and just don’t really care. I keep hearing how they are going to “take over” fashion and beauty, and it makes me laugh. Not without upgrading their shopping experience they aren’t. I find myself shopping there less and less every year.

  21. @MM – Can’t you renew online? We’ve never had fines – you can renew straight from the app. You can’t renew Kindle books, but they get automatically snatched off your Kindle if you are connected to wireless. Other books you can renew something ridiculous like 10 times.

  22. I have no idea if you can renew online these days. You have to have some numerical code to log in to do anything, and I don’t know what it is. Back when we were checking out books, the real problem was keeping track of the books. The kids would all check out books, and I would get this little printed out strip with their titles on it, which I would pin to the fridge – but invariably it would get lost, or the kids went and got books on their own and never brought the strip home, or stuff like that. Typically I would forget that books were due, or we would not be able to find 3 of them. And especially in those days, I didn’t have much time for reading, so the due date would come before I had made it through a tenth of the book.

    I tried again recently, borrowing an e-book on Bobbyt Kennedy. It was good, but I had only made it through the first chapter when suddenly it was no longer available on my Kindle because the due date came up. It never even asked me if I wanted to renew, and even a renewal would not have given me enough time. So I went and bought the book from Amazon.

  23. I like Amazon’s interface for books and music. They have the best (and one of the earliest) recommender systems out there. For clothing, though, they are horrid. I hate that they have separate listings for different sizes of the same item. How stupid is that? Zappos is way better.

    I bought some clothing from Kohls online today. I hadn’t shopped there in years and I was amazed at how clunky and horrid their site was. In particular, I had selected a number of items and put them on my cart before I remembered to log in. When I did log in, it cleared my cart!!!! Everything disappeared. That used to be a problem with a lot of shopping sites say 10 years ago, but most sites are now able to keep history across a login. Another peeve- when I checked out, I had to enter my shipping address, and then I had to enter my billing address separately even though it is the same. Most sites have a checkbox that says “Billing address is the same as shipping address” so you don’t have to enter it twice, but not Kohls.

  24. I liked the local bookstore in our old town, but it was SO EXPENSIVE – $20 or $30 for every children’s book. Of course, for that you would go there, buy one book for the birthday party, and have them wrap it nicely and include a card!

    I prefer reading books to kindle, but I also don’t like the clutter – so I’ll go to the library sometimes when I need my paper fix.

  25. The Barnes & Nobles near us are for the most part community centers. They both have cafes so you can get something small to eat or drink and hang out for hours. In addition to normal bookstore activities they are places where tutoring takes place weekday afternoons. My parents love B&N. It’s staffed by seniors who will chat with them. They would be heartbroken if it closed.

  26. Amazon’s perfect for things like our humidifier cartridges for the model that Sears stopped carrying probably eight years ago, or the specific HEPA filter for the air purifier.

  27. @MM – Kohl’s has a horrible website too, that’s definitely true. I have abandoned items that I was planning to buy there because their website was so terrible.

    But so many fashion and beauty places have really nice websites and apps with great filtering, product reviews (including photos from real people!), etc. It’s really hard to see how Amazon is going to take over clothing purchases with their garbage interface with – YES – different sizes and colors in different listings at different prices.

  28. @Milo – Right. Amazon is great for looking for a very specific item that is not all that common. I buy our water filter replacement cartridges there. And I bought a random part to fix a loose false front on our vanity. (Home Depot didn’t carry the fastener.) It is horrific for browsing or narrowing down among a group of like items.

  29. If you keep your Kindle offline, the library books stay put until you have time to read them. And our public library website has a very easy online renewal option for real books. Even though our local branch has a somewhat limited selection, I can put a hold on the book and pick it up in a few days.

    I love Amazon for books. The interface may not be perfect, and some of the reviewers may be idiots, but IME there are more than sufficient numbers of thoughtful, articulate readers who are generous enough with their time to post detailed reviews that can help others curate the endless stream of content. They are less helpful with fiction because so much of that is personal preference, but if I want to find the best “narrative nonfiction” account of a historical event or person, the first place I look is Amazon reviews.

    I would care more about bricks and mortars bookstores if I had kids at home. BITD, we went to the library for book perusal. Like Milo pointed out, I have no interest in purchasing a “used” book marketed as a new one, and would rather not have to navigate aisles filled with non-book merchandise in order to browse the actual books. Kindle is a wonderful and free way to browse.

  30. and the retail space that the entire bookstore requires is immense.

    With the collapse of retail I bet they can negotiate some very reasonable leases. If you’re a mall owner with a Toys R Us and a Sears you really aren’t in a great position to drive a hard bargain.

  31. I loved Borders for all the reasons Mooshi cited. Barnes and Noble stand alones never did much for me. My kids were bookmobile regulars in the 90s. We went to story hour at the main library. But times change. I buy a lot of used books for cheap on Amazon as well as ebooks.

    I am the oldest of the regulars and I am a complete convert to online shopping. I used to have to drive to a fancy lamp store to replace the halogen E11 bulbs, and sometimes they were out. Now I click reorder and they are in my mailbox the next day at a fraction of the price. I bought the wrong size bike cover and can return it seamlessly while reordering the correct size. All within a couple of days. I buy all my clothes online from my regular retailers and return any that don’t suit, but I am pretty good at selecting and sizing. I did have to drive 25 min to REI to have hiking boots fitted. I do agree that clothes shopping on Amazon is tough except for finding a particular size or color of an item you chose already from another source, but I can find almost anything else in a flash. I even answer the I can’t be bothered to read the description questions that others pose for stuff I have bought.

    I just got the Libby kindle app on my phone to borrow from the library. There is a technique, Mooshi, to keep a favored book longer. Turn off the wifi before the 2 weeks are up. Scarlett described it a while ago.

  32. We shop/hang out regularly at the big bookstore chain in Canada, Chapters/Indigo. I looked up their public financials, and they are profitable and growing – the growth comes from toys/gifts/other merchandise, but print sales are flat. Interestingly, they have a strong and growing online presence, but online sales still represent only 15% of their total sales. I think a big reason behind this chain’s success is really good merchandising. It is definitely a hangout for parents and kids on rainy days, but the stores’ selection/displays/organization are really good, so they manage to convert the traffic into sales. We often go to the bookstore and buy nothing, but at other times I’ll let the kids each pick out a new book, we’ll get consumables such as sticker or activity books, or we’ll pick out a gift for a birthday party.

  33. Mooshi, you can renew online as long as the book isn’t requested by someone in the county system.

    You should just get your account reset or get a new card if you don’t know your number. I use our county library system a lot to reserve new books, or to borrow on my kindle when I Tracel. I don’t like to read on my Kindle unless I am traveling because I like holding books. I love bookstores and libraries.

    One of my college friends runs a large publishing house. My dad worked for one for years. I’m a big fan of bookbookstores because books are in my blood. I’ve been to huge warehouses with millions of books and I worked in the accounting department for a major publisher. We used to log royalties on index cards.

  34. Our local toy store chain seems to be thriving. They have packed a small space with a variety of toys so there is a constant stream of families buying toys. It helps that there is a nice mix of stores in that plaza so people are out to actually shop. An independent bookstore in the same plaza closed.

  35. Yeah, I think I need to get that county library card. But it isn’t a high priority for me. I really don’t need access to more books! I have about 20 of them on my Kindle waiting to be read, and a big stack of physical books on my nightstand.

    I used to prefer physical books until I hit the age where I needed reading glasses. I hate, hate, hate, reading with glasses on. I use the Kindle paperwhite, which gives a nice reading experience without all the glare and fuss of a tablet, and I can set the font size to something comfortable.

  36. I love bookstores and try to patronize them as much as possible. I also encourage others to do the same so that they do not disappear altogether! I was super sad when Borders closed. I do not want BN to close as well.
    Our school also does activities and fundraisers at BN. wont you know, kids always end up buyign something there.

  37. MM – our library emails 3 days before the due date with a handy ‘do you want to renew this book?’ button on the email. You do need your library card # or account to renew, but it’s pretty darn efficient.

    The BN in my town is a very busy place, at least in terms of the number of people entering and exiting. I don’t know how their sales are vs last year/prior years for BN merchandise or how many people are just getting a latte and perusing to kill time. It’s in the same shopping center as BBB, TJs, Cheesecake, Wegmans so there are a lot of other things that bring potential customers around.

    Then there are the two university-appended BNs on the edges of our two biggest campuses, their ‘college bookstores’. Both are you-can-hear-a-pin-drop dead. I’ll be surprised if either is in its current location 2-3 years from now. And BN College, a separate division of the company, is hurting.

    I think Amazon does a good job on books, especially rental textbooks…my 3 college kids will attest to that. I’ve/we’ve looked at other textbook outlets notably Chegg and Amazon almost always beats them. Often, the campus bookstore will be very close on price in which case they’ll take their business there. Not out of any sense of loyalty but just for the ease of returning the books at the end of the semester by just walking them over.

  38. MM – I think it is 3 things:

    1. The unemployment rate is not the same across the US. There are pockets where it is much worse (e.g., county where I grew up) v pockets where it is much lower than average (e.g., where I currently live, which appears to be pretty recession-proof).

    2. Downward pressure on wages/increasing cost of goods/services combined with college for everyone. You can be employed but not able to support your household, particularly for un/minimally skilled people. Also, many families need 2 wage earners to replicate what used to be provided by one.

    3. People are crazy.

  39. OT: Today my department is at an offsite, except for me. Can I just say how much I am loving the peace and quiet? It’s like I have an office again! I am getting so much done.

  40. My kids school had a time slot for library which they have now changed to STEM class. The library is used as research center now. There is no weekly reading hour or checking out of books weekly.

  41. “As it relates to bookstores, and in general, Amazon’s major weakness is that it’s not a fun platform to shop. The reviews make me suspicious (and are populated by idiots) and the selection drives me insane with choice fatigue.”

    This. I shop by going to a particular section (mystery) and looking at the spines for authors I like to see if they have anything new. Sometimes I can search online, but I don’t always remember all of the names, whereas seeing it in alphabetical order triggers a memory. Can’t do that online.

    I liked B&N when the kids were little, because we could go to the separate kids’ section, and they could play and investigate and look at all the different books and find interesting things to read; with the play table and the comfy chairs, there was no rush, and with an overactive toddler, it was awesome to be able to sit for a few and watch her be entertained by something that was NOT ME. Of course, as they started to replace books with games and toys, it became less of a haven and more of running the gantlet to get to/from the kids’ area.

    I do use our library’s online app on my iPad; it’s not the smoothest tech (e.g., when I had to get a replacement library card with a different number, I had all sorts of difficulty finding my account and re-setting it up correctly, and the books will sometimes appear but not be downloaded), but BOY is it convenient not to have to go to the library to pick up/return/renew or worry about fines and such.

  42. The library app isn’t perfect – there are a lot of clicks to download an e-book or audiobook. You go from the library to overdrive to to get it – all with separate logins. But it’s pretty damn good for a government service provided by the taxes I already pay.

    DS’s class takes a trip to the main branch of the public library every month or so to check out books for both research, book reports, and fun reading. They have a library at the school, but the big city library is SO much better.

    @Kerri – that stinks!

  43. Ivy and Mooshi – please don’t take this the wrong way, but “there are a lot of clicks” is such a ridiculous complaint. It belongs on the “first world problems” page. And yet, I totally agree with you! Ha! Nothing worse than bad customer interface on tech.

  44. “there are a lot of clicks” is such a ridiculous complaint.”

    Revisit that comment the next time you get sucked into a clickbait article along the lines of “You’ll never guess how horribly ugly these former child celebrities are now” and, 50 pages into it, you realize that the photo on the headline wasn’t even covered in the content.

  45. @Kerri – Oh it totally is! BUT…I’m much more willing to put up with a slightly less convenient interface on a public library app than on something that I am paying for. You want my money? Make it easy for me to shop!

  46. “Revisit that comment the next time you get sucked into a clickbait article along the lines of “You’ll never guess how horribly ugly these former child celebrities are now” and, 50 pages into it, you realize that the photo on the headline wasn’t even covered in the content.”

    I have done that! Maybe twice, then I learned to resist/ignore. I love it when someone in the comments gives a recap or finds the bait picture and posts it. People can be kind.

  47. I wasn’t really complaining about the clicks, but yes, that is a first world problem. However, my choice when I want a book is between 1. dig up my library card, put on my glasses to try to see the number, remember the password, go onto the library app, click through the really bad interface that shows me lots of unavailable books that I am not interested in anyway, find something sort of interesting, click through and log on several more sites until it finally downloads to my kindle, only to have it disappear 2 weeks later when I have only read 10 pages – and even if I do manage to remember to renew, I only get 2 more weeks, so maybe 20 more pages.
    2. see a cool new history book suggested to me by Amazon email, click, to to Buy with One Click, click, and now it is on my Kindle, ready to read, for something like $10.

    It is pretty clear I am going to go with #2, especially since I don’t need that many books in a year because I have little time to read, and I tend to choose big dense tomes that take many weeks to finish.

    The central problem with the library for me is not number of clicks, but that the time limits don’t work for me at this point in my life. When I have more time to read, I will probably return to the library.

  48. Mooshi – NYC library systems allows you to store the library card number and password on your laptop (like a gazillion other sites). Yours doesn’t?

    I like to find specific books ahead of time (I don’t browse the website), see if the library has them, put them on hold and pick them up when alerted – all. for. free.

    I really, really try not to buy books unless I know I’m going to re-read them, or the kids will read them (The Hobbit comes to mind). I blame my dad who was known for such expressions as “Are we trying to heat the neighborhood? – close the door! ” or “Put on sweater if you’re cold!” and my all time favorite “If you’re thirsty, drink water!”.

  49. The Overdrive interface lets you select “See only available books”.

    I’ve mentioned before that I used to have to work closely with Overdrive. They were first to market, so they won the big prizes. They were also a family-owned enterprise and their programmers, lawyers, etc., were all related and were perhaps not the very best in field. Shall we say.

  50. @Mooshi: Like Kerri, I also save my profile on the system so it opens up the account right away (I don’t necessarily do that for online shopping, but I figure even if someone hacks my library account, how much damage are they really going to do?). And I also keep a cheat sheet in the Notes section of my iPad — things like the FiOs and Netflix login info when for some reason I am traveling and some upgrade makes me re-enter all the info. Oh, and we can keep books for 3 weeks and then renew two more times.

    I’d spend ridiculous amounts on books if we had to buy everything. Actually, that’s not true: I wouldn’t buy the books, because I’d think “do I really want it $10 worth?” and then I wouldn’t get to read nearly as much as I do. ;-)

    I still do prefer hard-copy books. But boy does the iPad make travel much easier, and the convenience of getting/getting rid of can’t be beat.

  51. I have spent a lot of money on kids books. I just never made the drive to our neighborhood library. Such non Totebaggy behavior ! Both my kids used to bring home books from the school library. The spending money on books was due to availability of books on Amazon. As Mooshi said – one click and it’s at your house within two days.

  52. Louise – Plus, how can one possibly say no to getting your kid a book?! This very totebaggy behavior offsets the non-totebaggy behavior of buying it online.

  53. How do people with little kids buy books for them if they don’t go to the bookstore? Our library recently had a facelift and reduced the kid section. Actually, they reduced all the books and added more study rooms. We still go to the library every couple of weeks (and our books autorenew – no fines unless there is a waitlist for the book). They love to go to BN and browse through pages and find new books. For birthdays and holiday’s they ask for gift cards so they can buy their own books.

    Our BN is like Mooshi’s – it has a great restaurant (best burger in the area). The only downside is that the kid section is much like the library – decreasing in size. We make do, but I would love if they went back to bookshelves that stopped at 4 feet, instead of an unreachable height. My kids can’t tell if they want to look at the books way up high, so then I have step on the lower shelf and reach.

  54. Lemon – kids school had Book Fair, twice a year. It is such an event. DS always wanted LEGO books which were not “real” books – they were lego related picture books. There were always award winning books promeninyly displayed so you knew which books were most recommended for each age group.
    I didn’t like book fair because it was so crowded and we would come away with some unwanted items. Now, that the time has passed, I have grown nostalgic for it.

  55. OK, the point I am trying to make it is that it isn’t worth the cognitive load to figure out Overdrive or see if I can get my library card number to save, or anything else when the central problem is the time limitations on the books. Even if they made Overdrive as easy to use as the Kindle interface, I would still probably buy the books through Kindle because I hate having my book disappear when I have only made it 15 pages in.

    My general reading model is that I will buy a book for my Kindle when I see something interesting, maybe about once every month or two. I let them queue up, and then when I am ready for a new book, I just snag something already on my Kindle. Books may often sit there for months before I read them. And since they are already downloaded to the Kindle, it doesn’t matter if I finish a book say while waiting at the orthodontists office where there is no wifi. I can just switch to another downloaded book, one that may have sat there, waiting for me, for 8 months or more.

  56. Louise, the Scholastic book fair is the thing I feel most nostalgic for. They held those at my kids elementary school, and before that, the daycare. I have been at a book fair every fall and spring since my first was a one year old. And my kids loved them. They would make plans with their friends to meet at the evening session, and run into the school, totally excited. My oldest still talks about how he misses those.

    And then, last spring, I did the last evening book fair session ever with my daughter. They don’t have them at the middle school, so it is now all over.

  57. OMG- the Scholastic book fair was a nightmare! So much work for the PTA volunteers, so many crappy posters, bookmarks, and junk, such an awful selection of books, with a sprinkling of good stuff thrown in. And Scholastic gets a crazy large percentage of the cut even thought the PTA does all the work. Ugh. I hated when the teacher sent home the Scholastic flyers.

  58. Kerri, I used to volunteer at the book fair at least once a year. Yes, there was a lot of stupid plastic stuff, but my kids always found piles of books they wanted, and my daughter LIKED the posters. There was always a lot of enthusiasm for the book fair – tons of parent volunteers and the teachers liked it because the kids always would buy books for the classrooms.

  59. Mooshi – Sorry, was having bad flashbacks. I’ve found the quality of the Scholastic book fairs varies widely. Clearly, my kids’ school had one of the bad ones.

    We brought in a local independent bookstore one year – a huge improvement. The next year they brought in local authors that read to the kids and had a read a thon. So much less work for the PTA, so much more fun and quality for the kids and raised far more money for the school.

  60. Mooshi – you are like almost all of us. You don’t want to spend time learning or deciphering or seeking out stuff that you perceive has no value or misses the mark of what you want. You just seem to take the hurdles so personally.

  61. “tons of parent volunteers and the teachers liked it because the kids always would buy books for the classrooms”

    That’s a big difference too.

  62. I remember going with DS to select a book from the teacher’s wish list to buy and donate to the classroom at the book fairs. “Sigh”. I miss that age!

  63. I patronize our local independent book store and toy store as much as I can. I don’t buy books often, but when I do, if the local store doesn’t have the book I want, I order it from them (not from Amazon). These stores are such assets to our town, and they were a godsend when the kids were young and we needed somewhere to go on cold or rainy days. I would miss them terribly if they were gone.

    Re. furniture, I’m happy to buy generic furniture, but not rugs. Rugs are my “thing,” household-wise, Through the years, I have collected some nice ones via Craigslist and Etsy.

  64. Oh, and Birdie, I missed the past couple of days’ conversations, but I wanted to say welcome (in advance) to Massachusetts. I hope you like it up here. I think we have a lot to offer!

  65. The local libraries are tied into the county system so it doesn’t take long for physical books on reserve to be available. They use Overdrive for all of the electronic or audio material. It is a little easier to use now vs earlier versions.

    The ID and password and stored on a computer or a phone so I find it really easy to just put a hold on something that I want to read.

    Our middle school librarian retired and they’re hiring a media specialist to replace her. I was amazed at the difference in the job description vs 17 years ago when the existing librarian was hired. Many skills are needed now and this person pushes into classrooms too. It’s a great job, but you need to be able to wear many hats.

  66. When my kids were at the picture book age I would order from Daedalus, which sells overstock books at a steep discount. For something like picture books where of course you want a physical copy, and the books are relatively expensive, that was a good way to go.

  67. For kids books – when we were in the picture book stage, I bought tons of books because we read & re-read & re-read them. But once we got to chapter books, it got a bit nuts to keep buying books that he will only read once. And DS has read 50 books this school year! Even at $5-10/book, that adds up. He does own the Harry Potter series, but a lot of the other ones are never going to be read again. Our local branch isn’t bad at all even though its small, and it only takes a day or two to get holds from other branches. Plus, DH or I can easily go pick up books at the main branch, and DS will ask to go there too. Same for me – I read quite a lot of books these days, so the library is definitely worth the cost savings. Last school year, we started doing “family reading time” every night to fulfill the school requirement of the reluctant reader who this year turned into a total bookworm. So we all get a good chunk of time to read, which is great. I had really been missing it during the toddler/preschool years.

    “tons of parent volunteers and the teachers liked it because the kids always would buy books for the classrooms”

    I always do this. And DS will usually request something like the prior year Sports Almanac or one of the cool science books with all the diagrams and photos. We have a very well-loved copy of SUPER NATURE from the 1st grade Scholastic fair.

  68. This topic made me look up where the nearest Barnes and Noble stores are. There are two in Oregon, in Portland and in Eugene. Amazon has been a godsend to those of us in the boonies. I started shopping there in 1999, Amazon tells me. Buying piano books would be a lot more hassle without Amazon.

  69. I’ve been trying to get my MIL to use the online library system. She is an avid reader, and because she no longer drives she laments the old days when she made regular visits to the local library. She’s been using her iPad for reading more lately, and I’m sure she could become a big fan of online library use. One challenge is that I’m not a good or patient teacher, especially when it comes to tech.

    But overall I usually indulge my preference to buy books on Amazon. It’s an indulgence but well worth it.

    “Amazon’s perfect for things like our humidifier cartridges for the model that Sears stopped carrying probably eight years ago, or the specific HEPA filter for the air purifier.”

    Amazon’s just so darn perfect many ways. I just ordered mineral cartridges for our hot tub, a shimmery shawl and a dress for an upcoming black tie event. Before Amazon I would have had to drive to the next town to buy cartridges. And I would have had to visit a department store to buy a shawl for $30-50 instead of for $13 that I found on Amazon.

  70. I’m just wondering if prior to online shopping there used to be many requests for one off odd things. Kids school will say “Carolina blue T Shirt” required and since stores like Target and Walmart are not on my daily route, I just order from Amazon.

  71. July,
    For your MIL — I agree with whomever posted the observation that the library interfaces have gotten much better. There seem to be fewer clicks required to download an e-book or audiobook, although the trick with audiobooks is that you have to check them out on the device you want to use to play them. At least with Overdrive and our library, that is how it works. Though it is much easier to browse the collection on the desktop, if you check it out there it will download there as well. So I just make sure to have the phone handy when looking on the desktop.

    You could print out all of the steps for your MIL. My dad is 87 and he has mastered the process. He even strips the material of its identifying info so that he can download it onto his hard drive and keep it forever.

  72. I would be sad to see BN close. We spend lots of happy hours browsing and tons of money on books. If I can’t get over to BN I will fill up my iPad, but I prefer to read holding a real book.

    If I know exactly what book I want I will order it on Amazon but I never use Amazon for browsing. Too much clutter. But, Amazon has 100% replaced my Target runs, which used to be part of the Saturday errand running routine. So much more convenient and less $$, since I don’t make any impulse buys (I find ordering groceries to be less $$ overall for the same reason, even though you pay the delivery fee). I was in Target a few weeks ago for the first time since before Christmas, and was reminded of why I hate it. So much walking only to find the item I needed wasn’t in stock.

  73. I’d mourn a bit if BN closed, but for us losing Borders was a much bigger loss. Their locations were closer and more convenient for us, and they were the first such store to which we were exposed.

    DS in particular loved Borders, and he got a lot of gift cards for birthdays and Xmas. When they announced they would close, he and I developed a routine of going there every Sunday afternoon; I’d find a book to read while he shopped and spent down his gift cards.

  74. “As for the modern economy of big box retailers, online retailers, impossibly low prices…well, I’m a fan. We just love a lot better as a result of it.”

    I’m not getting the causal relationship between loving better, and big box and online retailers.

    Who or what do you love a lot better?

  75. “Barnes and Noble has one register open, and rarely much of a line. The dowdy cashier is kind of slow, always trying to type in the phone number for your discount. “

    My recollections of Borders included regularly waiting for one of several cashiers. If they couldn’t survive with that level of business, that doesn’t bode well for BN.

  76. I’m not getting the causal relationship between loving better, and big box and online retailers.

    Who or what do you love a lot better?

    Either it was a typo, or Milo has an Amazon subscription running for some things normally kept in the “intimate items” aisle.

  77. If I know exactly what book I want I will order it on Amazon but I never use Amazon for browsing. Too much clutter.

    Yup. Amazon sucks for browsing but is great when you know what you are looking for.

    But, Amazon has 100% replaced my Target runs, which used to be part of the Saturday errand running routine. So much more convenient and less $$, since I don’t make any impulse buys

    To me, that’s a feature, not a bug. DW gets really annoyed at me when I do the grocery shopping because I usually buy quite a bit that isn’t on the list. I like to browse and get stuff that looks good, and it drives her crazy. But as I tell her, I can’t know that I want something if I don’t know it exists.

  78. The downside is that if you say it “fort” Megan McArdle isn’t the only person who will think you’re saying it wrong.

    Merriam-Webster says both are acceptable. But it really doesn’t matter what the official correct pronunciation is, the one that most people use becomes the right one. Language evolves.

    It’s like how “begs the question” no longer means “avoiding the question”, it now means “brings up another question” because that’s how most people use it.

  79. “To me, that’s a feature, not a bug.”

    Do you like browsing on Amazon? It has a similar feature of exposing you to all sorts of things other than what you’re looking for.

  80. I went to buy some track pants for my daughter today on Amazon, and ended up buying a multipack of underwear for myself and a car charger. All because I was kind of browsing…

  81. I just got back from the high school awards night and am all misty eyed. My kids of course did not get any awards but I went with DS1 to see the part where they present the top 10% of the seniors, because many of his friends were there. They do a little blurb for each kid… “volunteered in Guatemala at a clinic”, “coauthored a research paper in cell biology”, “lin his spare time likes to play piano at a nursing home”, and listed the schools they are going to. I always find that interesting. The Catholic colleges do well by us, and this year Villanova is getting 4 of those top kids. Fordham is getting 2, Marist is getting 2, and Notre Dame is getting one. Besides those, 2 are going to Michigan< 1 each is going to Princeton, Johns Hopkins, U Miami, Berkeley, Air Force Academy, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook, College of New Jersey (public college in NJ), and Haverford.

    And I always joke that in my day, every smart girl declared as pre-med when she went off to college. Most of us switched out after the first year. I have noticed in the past couple of years that all the smart girls now declare as neuroscience. Same idea, I guess, but ratcheting up the specificity. I wonder if they will stick with that?

  82. And I really was misty eyed. I have known those kids since kindergarten, and in some cases, even before. Several of them were alums of the local mommy and toddler weekly playgroup that mine went to.

  83. Do you like browsing on Amazon? It has a similar feature of exposing you to all sorts of things other than what you’re looking for.

    Not really. There’s something about seeing the actual items that appeals to me much more than seeing pictures on a screen. It’s the same reason I still go to bookstores – I like being able to take them off the shelves and flip through them.

  84. Mooshi, I’m impressed with the graduate going to the Air Force Academy. Unusual for our school. Many of those Catholic colleges give nice merit aid.

    I had no idea that forte could (“should”) be pronounced “fort”.

  85. July, one of last year’s grads,a good friend of my kids, also went to the Air Force Academy. Both are cross country people.

    I think there are other reasons for the Catholic schools. This is something I learned about working where I work now. A lot of families specifically want their kids to go to Catholic schools

  86. I pronounce forte with the accented e at the end. I have never heard it pronounced any other way

  87. July, I also know that overall (not just the top seniors) we sent more to Fordham than to any other school. For a long time, I couldn’t understand why. I know people who have taught there, and report that the academics are kind of so-so. But I have heard from a lot of people that the reason you go there is if you want to major in business and plan to stay in the NYC area. Evidently, they have a great alumni network of business and political types in NYC. There are a lot of people in our town who own a successful business and hope their kids will take on the business. I think the Fordham profile is kids who are going to commute to school (it is only about 15 or 20 minutes away), work in the family business, and build their contacts.

  88. We had a modern-day parenting question arise this morning. The neighbors with whom we carpool to morning band practice texted DW to ask if it’s OK for the dad to drive them in his hobby project 1960s-era Mustang restoration.

    DW said “sure,” then texted me for verification. I said “sure,” but be aware that it may not have seatbelts.

    Then I found this interesting discussion.

    And, the car in question does have seatbelts. I don’t know if they’re factory originals or aftermarket.

  89. When I say “Fordham profile”, I mean the profile of local kids who go to Fordham. The school does have lots of students from farther away who live on campus.

  90. MM, Yeah, I know many local families like Catholic colleges. Besides the Fordham merit aid and general value of its business network , Mario Gabelli is a notable alumnus and has local connections to our town. You could say it’s a regional version of A&M; the name gets you in the door in a many places. My son’s best friend attended, but he dormed there and later lived in a local apartment.

    Milo, Interesting that your neighbors asked for your okay. I never would have thought it to be an issue, but now that you mention it I guess many parents would consider an old (vintage) car to be a safety hazard. I wonder how old a car has to be before it’s considered unsafe for kids.

  91. I wonder how old a car has to be before it’s considered unsafe for kids.

    Here’s a modern car vs. a 90s Volvo. Forward to 2:00

  92. “an old (vintage) car to be a safety hazard”

    Oh, it definitely is, statistically. With or without seatbelts. If you quantify the risk, it’s inconsistent to jump through hoops so that five year olds can bring their booster seats with them for carpooling or playdates, or to get on your high horse about keeping kids rear facing until God knows when, and then have ANYONE ride in a 1960s car. But, whatever. It’s a quick ride to school, it’s a beautiful day. Live a little.

    Thinking about it made me want a more interesting car. I still have a thing for a four-door Jeep Wrangler, mainly because it’s a spacious convertible for five people. They’re so expensive, though. (I was just looking.)

    Unrelated…for Rhett:

    The architecture of the main house has been altered by past owners over the course of a millenium, and it exhibits rooms from various periods. The manor started as a nunnery, and still has a room from the Norman period (11th-14th century), which was incorporated into the main dining room.

    It became a residence and went through a major rebuild in the 16th century, according to Historic England, a state-run preservation organization. The house had another large-scale renovation in the 19th century on its south and west sides. The newest part of the house, the west wing, was designed in the early 1900s.

  93. When I was interviewing for faculty positions, six different Catholic schools brought me to campus, mainly because my dissertation had a longish section about Aristotle. I found the kids to be great. Earnest, engaged with ethical issues, generally pleasant and open. I was impressed with Catholic colleges after that. (Hadn’t really given them any thought before.)

  94. Now that’s a house! Although 1000 years? That place must be crawling with ghosts.

  95. Milo – I like this nugget “Front lap belts came standard in ’65, but since they were not yet federally mandated, they could be sold back to Ford for a $10.76 credit.”

    I wonder what the percentage of buyers opted out of seatbelts? Of course in the 80s we hardly ever wore our seatbelts in the backseat, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people would save $11 and not order them for the front a couple decades earlier.

  96. In the main picture, the windows look enormous. I’m thinking they must be showing the newest addition, the wing that’s only a mere century old.

  97. Looks sort of like a mini Hardwick Hall. Bess of Hardwick was four times a widow accumulating vast weath each time.

  98. There is a very accomplished kid at the kids high school who is NMF. She is the sister of DS’s friend. The family has four kids (or maybe more) and the girl will be attending Fordham. DS says it’s because the parents went there and they are a Fordham family.

  99. In the 1590s when it was built glass was very expensive so this was quite something.

  100. People say I’m paranoid for not wanting to give Amazon or Google access to my house, and this is just what can happen accidentally.

    A family had a private conversation broadcast across the internet to a friend by their Amazon Echo.

    The horrifying discovery began with an equally chilling phone call, telling them to unplug their devices immediately. “You’re being hacked,” the voice said.

    As it turns out, that person had accidentally been sent a full recording of the family’s conversation. The sounds had been picked up and then sent by the Echo to a friend, who could then hear the entire conversation.

    That isn’t even the worst part, this is:

    Amazon had told the family that it had investigated what had happened by listening to logs of the conversations with Alexa. It wasn’t clear what Echo device was being used.

    Amazon is logging all the interactions with the Echo.

  101. The family initially didn’t believe that the message could have been sent. Then the person who received it said, “You sat there talking about hardwood floors”, and the family realised that they had accidentally been broadcast across the internet.

    Really?? That’s the most salacious conversation the hackers could get? A discussion about hardwood floors? 2 1/4″ vs. 3 1/4″? Cherry-stained or gunstock?

  102. RMS, my husband also taught at a Catholic college for a few years, and I am at one. I find the kids to be extremely polite. So much door opening!! Besides Catholics, we attract a large Muslim enrollment, as well as other Asian groups such as Sikhs. I have heard people at other Catholic colleges tell me they also do well in those groups. I think Muslim families feel that Catholic schools are safe and have a spiritual dimension without pressuring kids to convert. But I don’t see many Jewish kids at these schools, so I think they still feel uncomfortable.

    My oldest did not have any interest in applying to a Catholic school, largely because they tend to have very onerous liberal arts cores, with required theology courses. We require 3 courses of theology plus philosophy that also ends up being kind of Catholic – and that is in addition to the standard humanities requirements. The kids all end up taking a course on marriage in the Catholic tradition, which they don’t like, but it is easy and we offer lots of sections.

  103. Milo,

    Thy weren’t hacked, you can make calls with your Echo. They must have said something that Alexa interpreted as, “Call Jerry.” And so it made the call. Just like when your phone rolls around in your pocket and you accidentally leave someone a 20 min v-mail.

  104. largely because they tend to have very onerous liberal arts cores

    I believe you mean, “A very valuable and enriching liberal arts core”. Fixed that for you.

  105. It’s incredible, Rhett, and to think that I was a kid during an age when TV commercials were flooded with comparisons about which “long distance” provider offered the best rates. And you typically waited until off-peak hours to call Grandma.

    Even in college, my cell phone plan had a certain number of peak minutes, and I think maybe it had unlimited calling after 7 pm, which seemed like an amazing gift.

  106. The $20.70 min charge for a call from NYC to SF in 1915 is equal to $513.50. Today Jetblue will fly you from NYC to SF for $484.40.

  107. When DW’s parents were first married, they lived overseas. Long distance was prohibitively expensive, so they wrote letters home, and sometimes each side would make audio recordings and mail the (reels?). FIL says they called home just once, to tell everyone that MIL was pregnant with DW, and the call cost about $25.

  108. “The $20.70 min charge for a call from NYC to SF in 1915 is equal to $513.50. ”

    I guess that’s why Western Union stayed in business as long as they did.

  109. In the home country, there are many Catholic schools and for a very long time they provided a very good education. The Catholic students attended religion class, everyone else just had some sort of values/ethics class. Parents of other faiths were very comfortable sending their kids to school and many were themselves alumni of these schools. The schools were aided by the government so fees were low.
    Nowadays there are many independent private schools but fees are quite high and the quality can be hit or miss.
    I think many of Mooshi’s students families probably had a positive experience with Catholic education in their home countries so Catholic college probably merits strong consideration from them.

  110. When the 1866 transatlantic cable was activated, sending a message across the Atlantic was not cheap. It cost US $10 per word, with a 10-word minimum ($10 at the time was equivalent to a skilled worker’s weekly wage). At those prices, only large companies could afford to use the cable to send telegrams. In its first few months, about 95 percent of the cable’s capacity went unused.

    In 1867, the Anglo-American Telegraph Co. reduced the rate to $46.80 for a 10-word message, and usage and revenue increased. Anglo-American’s transmission rate was approximately 8 words per minute, which increased to about 17 words as the staff became more skilled.

    Newspapers were important customers: The New York Tribune spent $5,000 on a single dispatch by Horace Greeley in 1870 about the Franco-Prussian War.

    So that’s $170 a word and with the price cut it was $800 for a 10 word message. 5000 is $85k today or about how much it would cost to charter a jet across the Atlantic today.

  111. My DD#1 went to Lutheran K-8 and Catholic 9-12. She was adamant about not applying to any school with a religious affiliation. Her last 4 years of theology and at her school a very narrow world view have made her a bit nuts. I would say there is a definite trend in our area to a more conservative religious outlook over the past few years.

    Here the reason for sending your kids to private, religious-affiliated school varies, but there is a clearly identifiable portion that do so limit their kids’ interaction with people who are different – from race to ethnicity to beliefs around gender and/or sexual identity, etc. One school in our area has closed, in part to its very narrow belief system that made anyone not a member of that congregation feel unwelcome. Another in our area is struggling, in part because the provision of Christian education outweighed a good academic education.

  112. Mooshi, I attended the awards night at our local HS this week as well. Girls swept the awards. If it had been a competition, it would have been a shelling.Top ten – all girls. Department awards – almost exclusively girls. Scholarship recipients – almost exclusively girls. National Honor Society – 12 girls/4 boys.

    Some anecdata about NHS, two close friends of DS who would have certainly been accepted did not apply because “the application takes too long/don’t want to write an essay.” DS has a small friend group, I wonder how many others opted out for the same reason.

    Lesson learned (don’t make this mistake if you have younger kids!!!) from listening to the scholarship presentations – make your kids apply for the scholarships! In January we told DS he had to apply, but things went sideways in our house when my mom got sick, and we didn’t follow up on that requirement. There were a few scholarships that seemed as though he would have been strongly considered, and there were a LOT of multiple scholarship kids (all girls again) where they seemed to *just* fit the criteria for the award, which made me think that not too many people applied.

  113. Swim, my friend whose son went into plant genetics made the same observation about dogging your sons to complete the applications. As the mother of three potentially slacker boys, I’m keeping that in mind.

  114. Fordham is changing because it has become more difficult to get into certain Catholic schools. For example, kids that might have attended Villanova are unable to get accepted so they are looking at Fordham. Also, that new midtown campus has attracted more kids because you can live in midtown vs. the Bronx if you want the NYC experience. They also offer a lot more merit aid to attract kids so some kids that also got accepted at higher rated schools are turning down those schools to attend Fordham. This is especially true for the undergraduate business majors. Gabelli has a very good reputation, and the alum network is very good.

    One other thing and I only know this because I hear it from some of my friends is that they think that certain universities such as Georgetown have strayed too far from their religion and are secular. Fordham is Jesuit, but it is still a little more conservative than some other schools.

  115. Lauren,that is an interesting analysis. I will say that a Catholic school can be religious without being conservative – that is very true of my school, and to some extent, true of the school where my DH taught. My school is very social justice oriented but that is tightly integrated into the Catholic mission.

  116. Georgetown is basically a secular school but “in the Jesuit tradition.” Only about 40% of its students are Catholic and its president has been a layperson since 2001.

  117. Scarlett, are you up to date with the Americans? I am obsessed with this show right now, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

  118. Lauren – I was so obsessed this week that I dug into reddit and came across a prediction for the finale that makes sense to me – not so much the details of who lives and dies and where the living end up, but the plot twist that will set in motion the ending.

  119. I’ve read a lot of theories about the show, but I will check out Reddit. I’ve been reading as much as possible and I really just want to know how it will all come together.

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