To the editors:
Don't let these self-styled book "superstores" fool you ["Book Wars," July 16]. In my recent experience, 100,000 titles don't always mean true "depth" of selection. Four recent frustrating book searches account for my continuing loyalty to the independents.
Story One. About a year and a half ago I received delayed notice that my book discussion group had selected a lesser-known novel by Graham Greene, Monsignor Quixote. Time was running short; the group was meeting in a week. Luckily, I thought, I worked in the Loop. I ought to be able to locate the book quickly during lunch hour, or maybe after work. Wrong!
No luck at the public library, so I proceeded to stop by the downtown bookstores as time permitted. The book was in print, in paperback version, and nowhere to be found. No luck at B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, ANY of the Kroch's & Brentano's stores, nor even at my beloved Marshall Field's book department. The few stores that had ANY Graham Greene carried only a couple of his best-known books such as The Honorary Consul.
As consolation I read a terrific 1930s era collection of Greene's short stories I'd nabbed at the library. Even were I unprepared to discuss Quixote, I'd be ready to discuss Greene.
Still, I needed Monsignor Quixote. I made a last-ditch after-work stop at Barbara's Bookstore on Broadway. OK, OK. I confess that I've been a ten-year customer, but I just didn't think I had time for this 45-minute detour. My effort was rewarded, for wouldn't you know the book was there waiting for me.
Story Two. Christmas season 1991. I wanted to complete my husband's Ivan Doig "McCaskill" trilogy. Both books were in print, but again, not to be found downtown. Amazingly, I found one at B. Dalton, but still lacked Volume One. On a whim I ventured up Michigan Avenue to Stuart Brent, whose smart, friendly salesperson said he could have it in the store the NEXT DAY. He did.
Story Three. This is my ongoing test for a worthy bookstore. I especially enjoy 20th-century British fiction by women. One of the greats of our century is Elizabeth Bowen. I believe nearly all of her novels are in print, as is a paperback issue of her collected short stories. Easy test for any store, and the so-called Crown superstore on Wabash flunked immediately, as did Coopersmith's (yes, another foray to North Michigan Avenue!). Once again, Barbara's came through (1800 N. Clybourn this time), and I've picked up a couple of Bowen novels at Seminary Co-op, too.
Story Four. You report that the Diversey Barnes & Noble has a "large" children's section, yet a friend and I searched there in vain for the delightful board books of Helen Oxenbury. (My friend bought hers at 57th Street Books).
Finally, money spent at independents ultimately boosts the local economy because profits are recycled locally, rather than funneled to Troy, Michigan, London, or New York. Why patronize chains that fail to serve my needs, then extract my money to enrich far-off corporations?