Forgive me, brothers and sisters of the Little Shop on the Corner and the Megastore that's following it into history, for I have sinned against the brick-and-mortar once again. Yea, I have strayed from the home that nurtured me to answer the siren call of Amazonia.
It is not as if the spirit were not willing. But the flesh, sustained on a modest income and unmoved by a lucky find on a vacation browsing trip, managed to be decisive in its weakness.
Jose Saramago's Death With Interruptions, just recently recommended by a dear and erudite friend, caught my eye from the crowded shelves of a hectic college bookstore. Elegant gray paperback, falling open in the palm as if custom-fitted, just the right thickness for a pretentious reader with poor eyesight to carry around for show and get through in a month.
I started toward the cash register. I tried, I truly did, to weigh the $15.95 against the $80 sweatshirts and $150 TurboTax units being brandished by post-literate shoppers all around. But I knew. And I caved.
On Amazon, on Alibris, on AbeBooks, on the sites that are most of what's left of the mighty chains that ruled the Earth for what seems like about three years, I'd be paying four bucks, tops. Plus shipping. A couple gallons of premium gas, a Starbucks Vente plus Danish, damn the crass comparisons. What's a blue-collar bibliophile to do? I left the store with a T-shirt, marked down to $5.99, along with a commitment to commit another online hookup.
Back home, I learned my calculations were way off. Saramago wasn't four bucks or three, it was one.
Dealer after dealer after dealer had my $15.95 book, used in "Good" to "Very Good" condition, for a penny, plus $3.99 shipping. Four bucks, total. The people who want that lovely piece of literature are so vastly outnumbered by those who don't, it is a good riddance write-off for conglomerates that would die if they depended on reading.
I rescued Saramago, is what I did. I kept a little candle burning against the inexorable blackness. I emulated the Irish monks who saved civilization by copying banned texts, except that I faced no danger, did no work, and got off somewhat cheaper than an investment of a life.
And I hurt University Book Store, Madison, Wisconsin. Just as I have inflicted my thousand cuts on the late lamented Borders stores, where I browsed so breezily and bought so little. Just as I fail in faith toward the least of these, my several surviving Indianapolis stores, where proprietors I count as personal friends wait pining for my criminally sporadic visits.
Lord help me, but the temptations are neither few nor susceptible to prayer. For $5, for $3, and indeed for a penny, more than once I have had the choicest droppings of the Western and Eastern minds ferried to my door. Camus, Borges, Rumi, Levertov. To have procured them from bookstores would have requited the love embodied in their production; but it would have meant more money, more waiting, more searching than my love for the shelves and the staff and the coffee could sustain.
The irony is bitter; the excuse is almost sweet. Before the Internet, I inquired in vain at bookstores for out-of-print treasures. Left notes for them to keep watch for a title or two. Online came about, and I had my pick, from $200 signed first editions to $4 battered library copies. Thanks to the times we live in, I own books that never could be written by men and women of this age. Books from times when a Main Street or at least a suburban mall without a bookstore carried some surprise. I can only give thanks now that I've amassed such a mountain of these ink-on-paper artifacts that I'll not live to see the day I have to buy a Kindle, the bloody path to whose total dominion I have shamefully helped clear.