As a modern book shopper, I use Amazon, Ebay and Alibris because buying online and having something delivered to my door appeals to me in terms of time management. Also, I do not have to drive in traffic, however light it may be that day. While I do enjoy the periodic visit to Borders or Barnes and Noble for a cappuccino and a chance to leaf through whatever books catch my eye (and which I may end up going home and ordering online), my primary method of buying books is via the web.
This has led to sad discoveries. Books published in the past decade (or ever in fact), which I consider classics, are often found being sold for disgracefully low prices. If I hadn’t read them, I would wonder if they were any good. After all, critical value rendered in price does apply to movies. Movies that sell for a penny usually do so for a reason: they do not really bear re-watching, at least not more than once. People tend to keep good movies nowadays the way my mother, father and grandmother keep/kept books. Book readers hold onto books in case, at any moment, the desire to leaf through the pages should strike, and sometimes out of awe for the experience just lived. Reading a book can be a glowing, mind-sensuous process that cannot possibly be thrust into a two-hour time slot.
To get back to sad discoveries, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is today going for ten cents, used, on Amazon. I read Cold Mountain right after seeing the movie. It was marvelous, better than the movie. I did the same thing with The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. While the filmed version starring Ciarán Hinds is wonderful, I could linger over passages and ideas on Hardy’s pages in a way that the movie did not allow me, even with the use of a pause button.
Speaking of The Mayor of Casterbridge, it too is being sold for a penny today on Amazon, in paper, not counting the shipping charges. I find this disturbing, even though the sellers are secondhand. Do publishers print too many books? Is the market so flooded that a book should be worth no more than a penny? Are there any trees left? These are sad days for book lovers AND writers, I think, even when the flooded market makes it easier for all of us to acquire an armload of paperbacks.