In theory, I support local bookstores.

That’s right, I said in theory. In practice, I buy most of my books from Amazon or from Better World Books (or from thrift stores, but that’s a slightly different story). Kindle aside, if I want a physical book, the prices on these two sites can hardly be beat. We have Amazon Prime, so 2-day shipping is free, making the convenience factor hard-to-beat as well. (Coincidentally, Better World Books also offers free shipping, but I don’t have an account with them, so I still have to fill out some forms, unlike with Amazon.)

I realized my hypocrisy recently when I wanted to buy Gretchen Rubin’s most recent book, Happier at Home. I knew this was a book I’d want to underline in and possibly pass on to other people, so I didn’t want just the Kindle version. I decided ahead of time that when I was in Asheville before the Becoming Conference, I would pick it up at the local bookstore I planned to visit there. Well, after having to ask for help finding it, imagine my awkwardness at noticing the $26.00 price tag and going through an intense internal debate over whether or not to actually buy it. At that time, it was under $20 on Amazon (I knew because I had checked. And actually, it’s down to around $15.00 now.).

I ended up putting it back on the shelf. My frugality won out over my desire to support the local bookstore. But I felt like a fraud! How could I say I supported local bookstores when I couldn’t even bring myself to buy one measly book from one?! If I of all people, with my shop local, love books sensibilities, wasn’t buying, then how could I expect the masses to do it? And if the masses aren’t buying, how can we expect local bookstores to stay in business? I would be sad if local bookstores went out of business…so I would think that means I have a responsibility to actually shop at them!

I like the vibe of local bookstores. For all I love my Kindle, there’s still something about the feel of a book, and the beauty of the cover. I love walking around bookstores and pulling books off the shelves somewhat at randomly, checking out the artwork and touching the pages. I like the personal attention you can get at local bookstores, the knowledge of the staff, and the sense that they love books as much as you do. Local bookstores offer some great programs, too. Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA has camps and story times for kids, book clubs for adults, and they participate in local “Big Read” events. They’re active in promoting literacy in their area. I haven’t noticed that from, say, Barnes and Noble.

But even given all of that, I’m still torn. Frugality has come to be as much a part of my life as reading, and it feels like I’m doing a disservice to that value if I support my other value of shopping local. I don’t want to stop saying I support local bookstores, because I still do…in theory. I’m not sure if supporting them in theory matters, but I’m also not sure what would help convince me to spend more of my book money at them. So I’m at an internal impasse. I guess I’ll just have to live with myself and keep trying to figure it out.

Where do you buy most of your books? If you have a set of conflicting values, what helps dictate which one wins out in a given situation?

(Oh, and by the way, I ended up buying Happier at Home when I went to hear Gretchen Rubin speak at the Margaret Mitchell House. Yes, I paid $26 + tax. I decided it was worth it.)

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman