Shopping, Reading, and Random Thoughts

I was going to stay home and nurse my cold today, but the weather was so pretty (after a dreary, rainy day yesterday) that I found an excuse or two to go out.  When I stopped by Office Depot for a box of my favorite pens, I found myself unable to resist buying a pair of 8 gigabyte flash drives, on sale for $9.00 apiece.  I don’t need them.  I have flash drives all over the place, in my purse, on my desk, little ones in a box, more on my desk at work.  I remember when the first flash drives (I think most people referred to them as thumb drives then) came out–they held 128 megabytes of data and cost a hundred dollars or more.  I had friends who carried them around like talismans, their novels-in-progress safely hanging from lanyards around their necks.  Heck, not too many years ago I was working on a computer with a hard drive that only held 2 gigabytes.  Nine bucks–how could I pass them up?

Office Depot is located next door to Half Price Books, and how could I pass that up?  I went in looking for a copy of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, a book I remember fondly from my childhood (mumble mumble) decades ago.  A new movie version is just coming out, reminding me of the book  (although the movie, an animated Japanese film redubbed in English, is called, for reasons I can’t explain, The Secret World of Arrietty, after the protagonist of the book).  There were no copies of Norton’s books in the store, but I did stumble across a biography of L. Frank Baum, Finding Oz by Evan I. Schwartz, a bargain at two bucks, and I picked up another of Phyllis A. Whitney’s novels, Woman Without a Past.

Full shopping disclosure:  last week I ordered Deader Homes and Gardens, the latest comic mystery from one of my favorite authors, Joan Hess, from Amazon.  Being no fan of shipping charges, I found something else to buy (The Help on DVD) to bring the total up to the free shipping level.  Just made it, at $25.20.  Never mind that I’m working on a couple of Amazon gift cards that will keep me in books and movies for a while.  I’m still too cheap to pay for shipping if I can avoid it.  Yes, I know, I bought something instead, but it was something I wanted.  And we all know perfectly well why Amazon offers free shipping–so we’ll buy more stuff.

Sigh.  More books for the To Be Read Shelf.  You may have noticed I’ve had the same three books on my “What I’m Reading” sidebar for the last ten days or more.  I haven’t forgotten to update it.  I’ve really been that slow.  Busy at work, on day 50 of the current writing challenge (mostly editing on Bathtub Jinn lately, and I still need to work on that tonight).  The last book I finished was Haywood Smith’s The Red Hat Club, a funny, charming, and touching novel well worth reading. 

 We need a t-shirt, or a bumper sticker: She who dies with the most books wins.

Where Have All The Bookstores Gone?

No, that’s hardly an original observation.  It’s pretty clear to everyone who loves books that the world has changed, but I found myself thinking about it the other day, and making a list of those that have vanished from my corner of the world.

When Jack and I moved to this area, near the Johnson Space Center, between Houston and Galveston, in 1976, from a retail perspective we were in the middle of nowhere.  We were used to that–we’d moved from New Iberia, Louisiana.  We didn’t much care that the nearest shoe store was fifteen miles away, but we did set out to find books.

Back then there were two sources of new books nearby: a newstand with a substantial paperback rack (and paperbacks were pretty much all we could afford) and an independent book store, Allen Maxwell Books, located across from the Space Center.  Not surprisingly, Maxwell specialized in nonfiction and science fiction, which was fine with me.   We soon hunted down every used bookstore between Houston and Galveston, and there were a lot of them, ranging from paperback exchanges to permanent flea market stalls to serious dealers in military history (Jack’s specialty).

By the early 1980s Baybrook Mall sprang up like a giant mushroom and suddenly we not only had shoe stores nearby, we had bookstores, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton’s.  And then, oh joy, Bookstop moved in across from the mall, with a huge assortment of books, good prices, and even a discount program.  A few miles up the Interstate, MediaPlay opened a store.  MediaPlay not only had books, it had computer software (and I had a computer), music on tape and movies on video cassettes (hey, this was twenty plus years ago).  Heaven.

I think our local Half-Price Books opened in the mid to late 1980s, followed by a big bookstore that might have been a Crown store, but I don’t remember (and there’s an HEB grocery store there now).  That store never seemed to thrive, and didn’t stay around long, and that might have been an early sign of things to come.  By then I was hearing about a new source of books called Amazon.com.

So the Crown store, if that’s what it was, closed, and so did the MediaPlay.  But that didn’t stop Barnes & Noble from opening a store in the neighborhood–good.  But B&N also bought the Bookstop chain, and soon closed ours–bad, although you couldn’t really blame them.  Bookstop was practically on their doorstep, and had a better discount program.

The independent bookshops and the paperback exchanges were already falling by the wayside by the time Borders built a big store directly across the street from Barnes & Noble.  That never made much sense to me, but I shopped there from time to time.

But not all that often.  I had been a member of at least two of the Doubleday mail order clubs for decades, buying mysteries and science fiction from them since our New Iberia days, and over the years I bought more and more books on line.   Specific used books were easier to find through sites like Alibris than by searching used bookstores, although Jack and I enjoyed recreational book browsing, something that really doesn’t work on line.

Last year the Borders closed.  I didn’t realize it until I started thinking about this, but both of the mall chains, B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks, are gone.  Most of the independents and paperback shops in this area have disappeared, although some survive in Houston: Murder by the Book, Katy Budget Books, and Blue Willow Bookshop, for example, all of which do business on line as well as in store.

I still belong to three Doubleday Book Clubs, science fiction, mystery, and romance.  I order from Amazon often, and not just for my Kindle.  But sometimes I want to wander through a bookstore and search the shelves for books I never knew I wanted.  Out here in the southeastern corner of Harris County, we have a thriving Half Price Books, and Barnes & Noble.  And not much else.  Yes, Wal-Mart and Target and Kroger carry books, and I’m glad of it, but it’s not quite the same.

The RWA chapters I belong to give away little prizes now and then, for various accomplishments and contributions, traditionally B&N gift cards.  It’s been suggested recently that we should switch to Amazon cards.  I love Amazon cards.  But I’m going to hold out for B&N cards.  We’re writers, and we don’t want to see any more bookstores disappear.  Do your part.  Buy a book now and then.  At a bookstore.

New Books from West Houston RWA Authors

We had a very active booksigning at our chapter meeting yesterday, thanks to the wonderful people at KATY BUDGET BOOKS.  KBB brings us our members’ new releases every month, along with a mini-bookstore of romance novels and craft-of-writing books.  If you’re in the Houston area, visit the store for new and used books, and if you’re not, visit the website for news, reviews, and online orders.

  Colleen Thompson’s new release is Phantom of the French Quarter, from Harlequin Intrigue, about a mysterious hero who lives in the shadows of New Orlean’s Vieux Carré District, until he must protect a beautiful woman in danger.

Shana Galen’s latest romantic adventure from Sourcebooks Casablanca is Lord and Lady Spy.  Does that great cover remind you of anything?  You can check out the book’s trailer at Shana’s web site.

Don’t Mess With Texas is the latest romantic comedy from Christie Craig, and the first in a new series from Grand Central’s Forever line.  Christie keeps us all laughing, and so do her books.

One of our members has THREE releases this month–she writes faster than I read.  Her latest book as Sharie Kohler, Night Falls on the Wicked, is the fifth book in her dark paranormal Moon Chasers series from Pocket Books.

Sharie’s alter ego, Sophie Jordan, has two new books.  Wicked in Your Arms is her latest historical romance from Avon, while Vanish is the sequel to her wonderful Young Adult novel Firelight, from Harper.

Out-of-town member Tera Lynn Childs (we miss you, Tera!) also has a new Young Adult novel, Sweet Venom, the first in a new trilogy from Katherine Tegan books.   This series, about the triplet descendants of the Gorgon Medusa, is darker than Tera’s previous books and is getting great reviews.

Some day I hope to be enough of a WordPress expert to get this many pictures where I want them on the page, but today isn’t the day, and I’m moving on (let’s see, lunch, finish the laundry, finish the scene I’m writing, judge a contest entry, maybe even read a little).  In the meantime, check out these books and web sites–I promise they’re all worth your time.

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