29 October 2008

Mass consumption of the poetic kind.

A long time ago I went to places like this and picked poetry books off the shelf and flipped through them and then handed money to a person (who gave me change and put the books in a bag) and then I walked out the door and the books were mine.

Now I do covert binges on amazon where I order $150 worth of poetry books in one shot, some books because I want them, others because I recognize the names from somewhere. Then I forget about it until a box shows up on my doorstep.

There are still probably 40-50 books at any given time that I want to get my hands on, but never think of when I'm binging, because it's a binge, and not entirely premeditated. It's like coming home from work on a day that you had a crummy lunch, and just eating peanut butter with a spoon the minute you walk into the kitchen.

I tired that amazon wish list thing, but you never remember the triscuits in the cupboard when you're opening the peanut butter jar, right?

I think my poetry book purchasing habits would be completely different if I could actually peruse and feel the books beforehand. I don't know if I'd buy more or less, but I think I'd probably buy differently.

How do you buy poetry? How could poetry buying be better? Do you like the idea of poetry book subscriptions, etc? Does anyone else miss bookstores that carry small press titles (and litmags)? Or are you lucky enough to have one?


Leslie said...

Because funds are quite limited, and because I've been burned before (never buy a book on the strength of a poem you liked in the New Yorker. It will be, almost by definition, the best the book has to offer), I try to locate books in the library system that I'm interested in. Then if I love them, I start planning on buying them.

I binge sometimes, but usually like that—with a list of stuff I know I want.

I also haunt used bookstores so I can sample the goods before buying. I'm more likely to take a chance if the book is used or otherwise not full price.

Lately, I try very hard to buy all first books new so the young writers get royalties. But I'll buy the big guns used—W. S. Merwin does not need my money.

Suzanne said...

I prefer to buy my poetry books directly from the author, if that's not possible I order from Powell's or B&N. (I refuse to support Amazon.) We don't have a good bookstore nearby, I miss having one, although there is a used book store I frequent sometimes, but it's hit or miss. Most of the other books I read I take out from the library. I'm enjoying your recent posts, Mary. Good stuff!

Oliver de la Paz said...

Most of my book purchases have been either recommended to me or are books by friends. I'm trying to be less compulsive, though I've been known to shell out for 10-15 books at a time at a particular conference that happens every year . . . Anyway, if I can, I buy and order my books from my local bookseller.

Collin Kelley said...

Lately, it's been directly from the small presses or the poets themselves. I think it's vital we support these kinds of purchases. Check out the blog Press Press Press and DIY Publishing for a great listing of small and micro presses and links to buying books.

Karen J. Weyant said...

I tend to buy poetry books based on recommendations. Joining the blogging world has helped -- if I read about a book that is interesting, then I buy it. I don't have any small bookstores where live, so thank God for the Internet.

Justin Evans said...

I agreed two years ago that I would buy at least 1 book of poetry each month from someone I knew from the blogosphere or really wanted by writers I admire. Sometimes I end up buyng two or three books in a month, but I cannot afford to buy books any time I want, so I have to make choices.

Still, this is more than I used to do. I used to not be able to buy any single author books of poetry. I had to buy anthologies. How I initially got around it was in college. I was getting my school paid for by the Army, so I purposely enrolled in lit courses which required a lot of books.

Even though I make purchases every month, I feel guilty for not buying more. I want to buy 10 or 12 books a month, but I can't.

Lyle Daggett said...

For most of my life as a poet there were several independently owned bookstores here (I live in Minneapolis, a city crowded with poets) that sold new books. Over the past 20 years or so nearly all of them have gone out of business, though there are a few left that are kind of specialized -- one that features books by women, one that specializes in books by Native American people, also the small bookstore near downtown St. Paul that's owned by Garrison Keillor, etc. And a couple that sell science fiction, mysteries, and so on. Most of them are fairly out of the way from where I live, and I travel by bus or on foot...

There are still several good used bookstores here, and that's where I mostly look for poetry books these days. I very much prefer being able to flip through a book, read a couple of the poems (or just skim them to get a sense of the words the poet used, how the poems taste). I find out about books I'd like to order by checking the literary magazines and websites I read, talking with people, etc.

If I find out about a book I want to order (and can't find it in what's left of bookstores here), lately I've tended to order through B&N just because there's one a block from where I work.

Though if it's published by a really small press (one that's operating marginally, not funded by foundation grants or a university, etc.), I'll often order directly from the publisher.

I also buy books a lot at literary and cultural festivals, events like that, and at poetry readings. I'll check out the library from time to time too.

Aside from all of the above, I find out about a lot of books from the loosely flung network of poet friends I've connected with over the years. That tends to be an especially good way to find out about books I'm highly likely to like. And because I've tended to write book reviews a lot over the years, I've now and then gotten freebie books from people.

I've never bought a book online. Always face to face or by paper mail.

M. C. Allan said...

I try to buy at a local indy bookshop in D.C., but being constantly broke, I'm occasionally tempted by Amazon's lower prices. I actually do use their Wish List and then buy in clumps when I get some money.

It's interesting, because I feel guilty about buying on Amazon, but then just recently a local poet told me that this indy bookshop (where I do shop regularly but don't always buy) is actually NOT supportive of local authors. They have readings, but if local poets aren't selling as well as they like, they call 'em in and have them pick up their books and take them away -- as though any book of poetry is ever going to sell like a Grisham. It was just another moment when I realized how hard it is to buy ethically, even when you try.

I do the library thing, too -- scout, then buy. Lucky enough to live in a poetry-friendly cluster outside of D.C. (Takoma Park) and the tiny, independent local library branch seems to have more single-author poetry books than the entire multibranch Montgomery County system.

magpiedays said...

Funny to see this posted the day I got the first installment of my most recent Amazon order. Because I live in a non-English speaking country, if I want to get any poetry outside of the Really Big Names (and by Really Big Names I mean Shakespeare, Keats, Whitman) I simply have to use Amazon. I don't use the wish list system - I just put everything in my cart and then when I decide to place an order I move a bunch of stuff to "save for later." I usually wind up with $200 orders but go months between ordering things.

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