The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 12: Bookstore Fight Club {and a suggestion}

There are two national chain bookstores in my town.  Big, commercial bookstores. Both of which I happen to frequent. This is not because I don’t love small, independent bookstores, by the way, which as a serious reader and appreciator of all things literary, I know I’m required to say.

This is because I often find myself in the two areas of town where these bookstores happen to be located, with a serious hankering for a new book and a little extra time on my hands.

But the experience of being a patron in these two stores could not be more different.

When I enter Barnes & Noble, I instantly feel at home. Myself. Where I’m meant to be. I can (and often do) spend countless hours in this heady environment, surrounded by books, and thoughts about books, and rivers of eloquent sentences and paragraphs and words. There are some mysteries about how things are organized here, but mainly, it seems logical. And most Barnes & Noble “associates” are helpful and kind.

The lay of the land and general attitude at Books-a-Million, on the other hand, makes no sense to me.

When I enter this store, I feel twitchy and nervous. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the organization of the books here. I once asked a Books-a-Million employee where the essay collections were, and after displaying noticeable irritation at being interrupted while rearranging the complete works of J.K. Rowling, replied, “What’s an essay?”  Seriously, she said that.

Also, I recently found a memoir I was looking for in the fiction section, next to the author’s novels and short stories, in this store. 

Ok, I get it, there probably isn’t room, even in a bookstore this size – not quite gargantuan, but pretty darn big, nevertheless – to file every book in its true category.  Or to have an actual section just for essay collections. No, in this case, essays are often found in the section that corresponds to their subject matter – travel essays in the travel section, Nora Ephron essays in the humor section, for example.

Here’s what I propose, to make it easier on those of us who still love to roam the aisles of a good bookstore, yet want to find the thing we’re looking for without having to ask a sullen, put-upon bookstore employee: install a map at the entrance of the store showing where each category of book is located. This way, patrons don’t have to wonder about aimlessly – or gasp – ask for help from a moody employee.

Everybody wins.