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Small Bookstores Soon A Page In History Chain Stores Strong Competitors With Slashed Prices

Sun., March 15, 1998

God would have trouble getting the Bible published in America today, Richard Nixon’s former White House lawyer said Saturday.

“The publisher and the chain bookstores only read the profile of the books,” Leonard Garment said.

With the Bible, “they would say, ‘Oh, no. It’s very repetitious. And it has all of those names. And what’s this about the world being formed in six days?’ “At best, the good book would get a tiny shot at the science fiction section.”

Garment knows this racket from his experience penning “Crazy Rhythm,” a book about his life as a jazz musician, Wall Street lawyer, and adviser and personal confidant to President Nixon. It is his only book.

He shared the dilemma of a world without independent bookstores at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association spring trade show in Coeur d’Alene.

The price to ordinary people is going to be a nation where a few huge chain bookstores offer only a narrow selection of celebrity biography, sex and self-help books, he said.

So much for literature, for good reading.

“People are affected, their children are affected,” Garment said. “A child who has never had his mind touched by a poem or a story will not know what it means to see a government burning books.”

By using their bulk-buying power to slash cover prices, “chain bookstores are destroying the equivalent of landmarks - the literary landmarks of this country,” Garment warned. Independent stores, most of them small, are part of the collective memory of a community and a culture, he said. They allow emerging writers to develop a readership.

Independent booksellers read what they sell and direct customers to the undiscovered, but enriching read.

When Garment visited chain bookstores after his book came out last year, he found half of the clerks couldn’t spell “rhythm.” So they couldn’t find “Crazy Rhythm” in the computer.

Garment gave one of his relatives $400 and sent him shopping for “Crazy Rhythm” in all of Pittsburgh’s bookstores. In three days, the man could only find enough copies to spend half of the money.

People say that when a big store squeezes out a small store, it’s just competition. But what happens, he asked, when the small store is gone and the big store raises prices? Or stops stocking works from less profitable, lesser known authors?

Illiteracy and an ill-informed public are the result, said Robin Cody of Portland, author of “Voyage of a Summer Sun,” a story about the Columbia River.

“There’s enough pressure not to read these days,” said Cody, who addressed the booksellers’ conference. “I see independent bookstores as the last defense lines in the battle against idiocy.”

, DataTimes


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