There are few things that I find more intimidating than a trip to Barnes and Noble. It is not the tacky music, the contrived café culture of the implanted Starbucks, or even the invariably dreadful hired pianist that often marks the entrance. No, it is the shocking amount of published material that horrifies me. Finding good publication as an author has never been a walk in the park, and getting your work into print is a success to be celebrated, but it is just the beginning. Even if I actually manage to write an entire book, and by some chance am lucky enough to get it published, how will it ever survive amongst this maelstrom of covers?
My trip to the bookstore came out of an interest in finding Peter Hessler’s new book, which has been out for just under two weeks. I wasn’t sure if they would have it, but I was passing by and figured that it didn’t hurt to have a look. Assuming that it would be shelved along with other travel books, I began to search. I won’t deny that I can be more than a little stubborn, and for the most part hate asking a salesperson for assistance in locating a book. I probably could have shaved off a good 20 minutes by simply having someone search the computer, but part of me enjoys the hunt. Computers are a great convenience, but at times leave me feeling like I have cheated. I know, I know, it’s completely irrational, but hey, I was on a mission.
After scouring the travel, culture and history sections for the book, I was beginning to get a bit discouraged, and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of material that was labeled as a ‘new release’. Every other book seemed to carry the title, and all of them claimed to have been highly reviewed by any number of notable sources. Seeing such consistently high ratings stamped on so many different works left me feeling as though the reviews didn’t actually serve much purpose. I want to hear why people liked the book, not just that it was ‘a remarkable work’, or that the author is ‘astonishing in his ability to craft a script’. These statements don’t mean anything, and for all I know are just excerpts from something far more critical. As publication becomes progressively easier, the fight to have someone spend more than 10 seconds looking at your work becomes dire. Catchy covers, bright stickers and a rampantly abundant usage of the word ‘new’ pop out in all sections. If there is one thing that remains consistent, it is the romance novels; cheap, un-reviewed, and all with illustrated covers sharing a likeness to Fabio.
Having given up on looking, and still without any interest in asking for help, I headed back toward the exit, passing a large stack of ‘new arrivals’ that blocked the direct route out of the building. There, right in front of the door that I had initially entered through, sat Hessler’s book, mocking my original guesses as to where it might have been. At twenty four dollars, it was significantly more than I feel a book needs to cost. Then again, I can only hope that someday I will be so fortunate with the work I publish.