Sometimes, New York really is like a small town.
I wandered down to The Strand bookstore recently, the first time I had paid a visit in about five years or since my first book was published. I immediately did what a lot of authors probably do. I sought my book out in those "18 miles of books" and I found it right where I figured it would be -- in the half price section remainder shelves. I was not surprised. After all, the hardcover version of Seven Day of Rage had been out for more than a year.
There were only three copies (And for that, I should feel lucky. There were dozens of some better known books down there.) BUT the first one I picked up had been autographed by me to someone I still work with!! Talk about indignity. I just laughed. What else could I do?
The Strand Bookstore, if you're not from NYC, is an institution. It sits at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street, a humongous bookstore, one of the last remaining bookstores along what once was Book Store Row. The Strand has books shoved into every nook one can shove a book in and they even overflow onto rickety sidewalk stacks where you can pick up a book for a buck.
As a reader and author, I know I should love The Strand but I just don't. And it has nothing to do with finding my book in the remainder bin. I've felt the same way for years which is why I almost never go there.
All those books... it's kind of depressing. It sends a subliminal message to me that there are so many books in the world, why try to write another one? After all, it's just going to end up here for half-price or maybe less out on the sidewalk stalls where its almost like the bookstore employees are challenging passersby to take a book and walk away. Why should we care? We've got a billion of them.
Wandering through those miles of aisles seeing all those former bestsellers and not -- books that people put a lot work into writing -- makes my head hurt. I don't feel like the books are prized or valued in any way. The Strand feels to me like the five and dime of bookstores. They've sucked all the romance out of owning or buying a book in my opinion.
At least good independent bookstores and even the big chains put books on proud display, offering them up as something special. I feel like The Strand is the opposite. Its all about quantity, not quality. And that is just sad.
Flash forward a day or two. I had written about finding one of my books -- autographed to a co-worker -- on the half-price shelves at The Strand. The person is someone I consider a friend, someone whom I talk to every day. My personalized inscription left no doubt who that person was.
People began to ask me the identity of this mystery man but I didn't want to embarrass him so I kept my mouth shut, at least until the mystery man himself showed up at my door.
He was indignant that someone had re-sold a book that was personally autographed. He said he'd read that blog post in bed (yes, I have many such readers but I like to think most of them are women!!). After turning out the light, he lay there thinking about who had given up my book for dead, who this cad was.
"I was really outraged," he said as he stood in the doorway of my office. "Who was it? You've gotta tell me."
This was just a little too delicious for reality so I just burst out, "Well, it was you!!"
"What??!!!" He couldn't believe it but c'est vrai -- it really was him. I never would have mentioned it but given this golden opportunity, I couldn't resist.
The rest of the day, he kept coming by my office apologizing and swearing he'd never set foot in The Strand. Someone at work must have plucked the book up one day and sold it to make a little extra money. He was really sorry but at that point the whole thing had become too funny, an incredible coincidence.
So beware Strand-sellers. You never know what might come back to bite you in the arse.