Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Cowboy Story

I want to write about cowboys.  Probably because I’m in Denver, about to head back east after a month or so on the western leg of my book tour.  I like Colorado, always have.  Bought three authentic western shirts at a store close by to where I’m staying.  It actually started the western look and is a hallowed stop for “folks in the know,” like country western and rock stars.  The shirts will go nicely with the boots I bought in Houston…and the matching belt.  If only I could sing.

Rockmount Ranch Wear, Denver
At the moment, though, I’m sitting in the atrium lobby of Denver’s venerable Brown Palace Hotel where a month ago, as a highlight of Denver’s 105th National Western Stock Show (as in cattle, not Wall Street), the prize-winning bull was paraded into the lobby.  He’s not here at the moment, though I haven’t checked to see whether he might be hanging out (ouch) in the adjoining decidedly non-vegan restaurant.

I first came to Colorado in the early seventies, fell in love with the mountains, and camped out here during the late summer for many years.  Lowell Thomas said it best, “I come to the Rockies to recharge my batteries.”

I stopped my pilgrimages a half dozen years or so later when I found a farm back east that sparked the sort of feelings I had for a place I knew near Golden, Colorado.  A home away from home, so to speak.  Then I discovered Greece and all bets were off.

Still, there is a unique magic to the Rockies and I could use some of it at the moment.  The tour’s been a great success—two live TV and four radio interviews in Denver alone—but after five weeks on the trail, this ol’ cowpoke has come to a conclusion he just has to share.

BUY BOOKS.  And I mean the printed kind.  And I don’t care whose they are, as long as you buy at least one hardcover or two trade paperbacks a month from your local independent bookstore.  That is, if you still want to see them around your neighborhood this time next year.  These days, I’d be surprised if most independents don’t qualify for not-for-profit status.

They’re battling not only the e-book frenzy and a no disposable income for books economy, but landlords looking for more.  Yes, the stories I’ve heard over these last few weeks are anecdotal, but considering the size of the bookselling community, two or three stories here and another few there begin to add up to a groundswell of evidence.

Baked by Murder By The Book, Denver
This isn’t about writers protecting their outlets.  It’s about communities protecting themselves.  E-books and piracy issues are not the source of the problem I’m talking about.  It’s the people who love books and can afford to buy books who chose to purchase them elsewhere.  Either online or for cheaper prices in places I need not mention.  Fine, continue to do that, but don’t forget to buy from your local bookstore, too.  Or three.

I know, I’m preaching to the choir and it’s all been said before.  But it can never be said enough.  If you want to hear it differently, since I’m sitting at the moment in cowboy central, permit me to put it this way: Let’s not let another local bookstore [née sheriff] ride off into the sunset because the town folk won’t back it up.  There will be no new one coming to town.  If you’re lucky, you might find some fancy-pants operator way over yonder, but don’t bet on it having any idea who the hell Lowell Thomas was.

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver
Time for a bit of humor.  I’ve been typing away on my laptop for over an hour, sitting in this massive hotel lobby as far away as possible from a piano player valiantly (and adeptly) plugging away for the same amount of time.  He just walked over to me and said, “Hi, you don’t recognize me but we met in Mykonos a couple of years ago.  I’m a friend of so and so.” It was the perfect tiny bit of ego tickling I needed to get my mind off the dark and dreary.  Then he added, “It took me a while to recognize you, you look older.”

I still tipped him.

Jeff — Saturday


  1. Loved your blog this week, and know you must love it there in Denver and the area surrounding. But I'm not so sure about the cowboy garb, yet. I'm picturing a Billy Crystal type of getup from City Slickers, and thinking you might be ripe to star in a new comedy series, a sort of Jewish take of of Hee Haw, called Oy Vey!
    As to your plea for all to support our local bookstore, I agree wholeheartedly. And while I'm guilty of owning an e-reader, which will come in especially handy when packing to go to Mykonos in a few weeks, I do prefer to shop for my reading material the old fashioned way. Give me long racks of books, the smell of print and paper, the smile when I discover a book previously unknown to me, one that I know will be sheer pleasure to sit down to. Roll the presses!
    See you on the rock sometime soon!

  2. Jeff, I do remember Lowell Thomas only because my grandaunt listened to him all the time. Does that tip the scale and put me in the geezer column? Doesn't matter; I'm already there.

    A few weeks ago, a man from the neighborhood I grew up in died so the wake was a reunion of people who haven't seen each other in a long time.

    My youngest brother (much younger) is getting gray but his red hair still makes him easy to spot. One woman stopped to chat and he told her where my sister and I were sitting. She asked if we still looked like we did when we got married (35 years ago for both of us). He told her we were sitting around the corner. She asked, again, if we looked like we did when we got married. He told her again that we were sitting around the corner. She went for it a third time and he gave her the same answer, loving it.

    Finally, she came to us and we had a nice conversation. She was polite enough not to show her shock as she faced the proof that we don't look like we did when we got married.

    The demise of the independent bookstore is unfortunate but, in one case, the owners caused the problem for themselves. There were two very nice bookstores that sold only books for children. One was very warm and inviting. Chairs for little people were scattered around and they could browse for as long as they wanted. The other bookstore didn't want the kids touching the books. There were signs like those in stores that warn that if "you break it, you won it." Wrinkle a page and fire and brimstone descended. Needless to say, they weren't in business long because they lost sight of who their real customers were.

    The other bookstore did very well until a combination of things shut then down. They were located in a very busy area that was effectively shut down by road work. There was no place to park so business disappeared. By the time the town finished gentrifying the area, the bookstore couldn't afford to continue.

    Barnes & Noble and Borders created welcoming places for all ages; no one cares how long it takes to decide on a book. There are some independent bookstores in Boston and Cambridge that cater to the college crowd. They carry very little fiction.

    It's the geezers who do most of the book buying and read the most fiction. The favorite genre is mystery. The truly sad story about books is the considerable drop off in the number of books purchased for children.


  3. Jody, we both know Mykonos is one of those places where I could wear your imagined Billy Crystal outfits and be as unnoticed as Beth at the wake.

    And to my definite non-geezer friend, Beth, I say once more you hit the nail on the head.

    The difficulties facing independent book sellers are not just macro-economic market factors. Flexibility and innovation are required to survive in any enterprise, no more so perhaps than now for book retailers. Things won't just work out on their own.

    Tim mentioned in a comment to Dan's piece, that we are living in "interesting times," but knowing that, booksellers must find ways to reach out to their potential readership with what suits the demographics of their individual, specific market areas. "Build it and they shall come" is no longer a viable business plan, assuming that it ever was.

  4. Great story, Jeff, and why don't people know when to stop talking? "You look older." "But you;ve gained some weight." "Didn't you used to have hair?" These are not things that need saying.

    Did you have a good time in Boulder? Did Lauri do the cake? If so, get any pictures?

  5. Tim, what I'd like to say to those sorts--but of course never do--is, "I see you still won't wear glasses you vain, insecure f#%k" [expletive modified so I"m not inundated with the sort of emails you're receiving].

    I love Boulder, spent a month there in the early seventies and kept coming back for years. I was there about a year ago and it's changed, of course [I shall follow your advice and stop talking]. Didn't get there this trip but did a half-hour radio interview with Boulder Public Radio's KGNU out of their Denver Studio. The people in Colorado are so nice.

    And one of the nicest is Lauri. In fact, your name came up and she said to say, "Hi." So HI. Yes, they did make the cake in the form of the cover of PREY ON PATMOS, and a photo the [culinary] masterpiece is in the middle of this post.

    If you'll excuse me now, I'm getting hungry just thinking of it.

  6. Jeff, a few weeks ago I met an old friend from college. 'You haven't changed a bit,' I cliched, though it was true. He hadn't aged a day.

    'I wish I could say the same,' he replied.


    As for buying books, this week I bought three - over the counter, in an independent bookshop. I feel very virtuous.

  7. Good Lord. Jeff - I read right past it. This is what happens when I'm interested in a piece of prose/

  8. I enjoyed following the whole entry, I always thought one of the main things to count when you write a blog is learning how to complement the ideas with images, that's exploiting at the maximum the possibilities of a ciber-space! Good work on this entry!