A toast to the last of the good stuff

December 16th, 2008

The other day I was passing time in one of my many embarrassingly self-stimulating pursuits when I ran across this comment about my book:

“I think I will eventually buy it cheap and used online.”

I don’t know the person who wrote it, but we are all careful about our purchasing decisions these days. What struck me is why she would broadcast her intentions in a way that seems both self-congratulatory and deprecatory about the value of a book – my book in particular. What price is so much cheaper than $9.56 new? Or even $11.95 list?

I’m not here to rail on anyone about the end of the publishing industry. Like a lot of industries collapsing these days it has long engaged in a stubborn suicide spiral. Publishers seem to have been blindly unconcerned with writers, readers or the revolution in content delivery. (Beware, beware, those of you awaiting publishing knights in shining armor. No one rides in on a white horse. You, yes you, the writer, remain your sole means of transport. So saddle up and get going.)

No, what I want to rail against is the peculiarly uncivilized value system during this, the decline and fall of our civilization. A system in which we can spend $10 a week on coffee in a cardboard cup, but scrimp on the $9.56 for a book.

And don’t worry: I’m indicting myself here. My husband and I don’t dare live without our $12 pound of connoisseur coffee beans each week.

One early Saturday morning about a month ago I stopped by Starbucks for my ritual tall-drip-with-room-for-cream $1.60 cup of slightly stale coffee on the way to the Zen center. Normally I make a pot at home but don’t want the roar of the grinder to wake the dead at the dark hour of my departure. There were about half a dozen folks ahead of me in line. The stock market had fallen, oh 700 points or so the day before, yet here we all were, living proof of our unshakable values. We could, on this day of our lives, own a share of Citigroup, the largest financial institution in the world, for $4. Or, we could have a grande vanilla soy latte. We all know how that story ends. It’s not a happy ending.

And so I make a toast today, a toast to a better tomorrow; a kinder, gentler, nobler nation; a toast to quiet circumspection, art and imagination; to our wiser selves awaiting revelation in the turn of a page.

A toast not just to the book or the bookshelf; not to the library, no, not just to the borrowed book; but beyond that, to the hard currency of words worth owning.

To the bookstore! Where everything is already dangerously, precariously, woefully half off and going out of business.


This entire post was written by hand in 15 minutes flat in the pages of Jen Lee’s magical Don’t Write: A Reluctant Journal while my hard drive was being replaced in yet another cruel case of ill-timed obsolescence. Get your own journal today. It’s not just a blank book. It’s a white horse!


  1. first of all, I am sad about all the books I will not be able to read and all the words I will not be able to entertain.

    I’ve observed something similar in line at starbucks a few months ago: a heated discussion about the souring price of gas. we are an interesting little species, aren’t we?

    Comment by curious girl (lisa) — December 16, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  2. I’m living in a book town in Wales.. one pharmacy, one bakery, one supermarket and over thirty bookshops. My friend a bookseller (they mostly are) commented on sales Saturday as being at an all time low. A busy prechristmas weekend and he made a total of £35. You can’t keep a bookshop open on that and the whole town is suffering. I think we cling onto our coffees desperatly as a comforting sign that things are still somehow ‘normal’.. but I fear there will be cut backs there too. I myself have not afforded christmas presents this year. I’m not being mean I just am terrified about the future of my money, at the moment I have what my exhusband gives me and have just gotton a job which pays a measly £4000 a year and that’s before tax and child care is taken off. I’m not complaining, although it sounds like I am it’s just I understand my need to buy myself a coffee and my reasoning behind no christmnas presents. (I shall be making gingerbread biscuits decorated for the neighbours and friends, and we made all our wn cards so there is SOME gifting,and I am affording christmas stockings for the kids).. ack I id not mean this comment to be so long you just hit a nerve. Because it’s true, I could save my coffee money and buy books for my friends instead. But then I’d never go out, and I’d never meet people and I need that I really do.
    Oh rats, you’ve gotten me thinking again! Great post.

    Comment by Honey — December 16, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  3. Love this post, Karen, and I too am mourning the demise of the publishing industry as we know it. The thought of only e-books makes my stomach turn. What about holding a book in your hands? What about turning the pages one by one (or three by three in the case of small children)? What about that wonderful smell of a book from the library – when you stick your nose into the binding and inhale? Wah.

    I have left you an award on my blog (12/15/08). I am going to send a few close friends to your post today. Thank you for writing.

    I will never devalue the written word. Keep going.


    Comment by Allison — December 16, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

  4. i'll drink to that!

    i've made sure everyone on my list is holding a book full of words and photos , worth owning indeed, this holiday season…including yours to a few special mamas 😉

    i've filled my pages of jen's magical journal & am looking forward to a quiet january evening to settle in with her solstice stories.

    as always, i'm so very grateful to you for sharing your words, your insights, your gifts…with me.

    Comment by Kirsten Michelle — December 16, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  5. I bought your book! and I WON’t be selling it used… MAYBE I will lend it or give it to another mama who will love it too 🙂

    thanks for your work and your words.

    Comment by Alyssa — December 16, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

  6. YOU are the white horse! (As I sip my grande nonfat latte and saddle up myself.)

    Comment by Jena Strong — December 16, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

  7. Allison wrote exactly what I was thinking. Handling a book is irreplaceable magic.

    Comment by Mama Zen — December 16, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

  8. I am actually, surprisingly reconsidering my tendency to buy used, make myself, or not buy at all. I never actually considered what would happen if everyone stopped buying stuff they didn’t need.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget for new things, anymore. Books were the last of my luxuries to bite the dust. I will be able to buy new books again soon, but not right now.

    The real damage, I think, is when we equate price with worth. Just because someone spends more on something doesn’t make it actually “worth” more.

    Comment by Rowena — December 16, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  9. My books are my artwork. I don’t have much in the way of wall art but I have rooms filled with books on shelves. My husband often asks me why I don’t sell them in a yard sale. He might as well ask me to sever a limb. I couldn’t imagine not having books to hold in my hands. And every time I go to purchase one, I am aware that I am supporting someone’s livelihood. You are worth full-price, Karen.

    Comment by Kristin H. — December 16, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

  10. I am a huge fan of paper books – I need something tactile to feel as I turn each page and get that much closer to finishing it up. Your book was on my wish list for Christmas – and if I dont get it – I will buy it for myself!

    Comment by Cat — December 16, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

  11. its a been a while since i had a moment to comment. but still you are my hero. everyday you somehow manage to climb inside my head and capture something. thanks for this. in 15 minutes!!! you are my hero.

    Comment by latisha — December 16, 2008 @ 7:56 pm

  12. Loved this post! E-books make me shudder, as well. I am an on-again, off-again journaler, and yes, I do need to get back on to that white horse.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — December 16, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  13. Heehee…giggle*

    i love how honest you are…with a little bit of humor…but hitting the hammer on the nail! xx

    Comment by pERiWinKle — December 16, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

  14. hey-
    that must be hard words to see written. I, unfortunately have not purchased a book in ages (even used). I have a large pile from the library. My children, however are getting new books!
    I have also cut out the %2.00 cups of coffee. PS-please know I am purchasing your book for a baby shower (my meditation friend is having her 1st baby).

    Comment by Bridge — December 17, 2008 @ 2:38 am

  15. I refuse to give up actual books, and while I see the eco-thinking behind buying used I’m hopelessly devoted to new when the book matters. Yours does, and it’s one of my favorite gifts.

    I joined the “Buy a Book, Save the World!” group on facebook to demonstrate my support for writers and books sellers…look it up if you’re facebook-inclined!

    Comment by bluelikethesky — December 17, 2008 @ 2:51 am

  16. karen, sometimes i touch the cover of your book and imagine myself taking your hand in gratitude. how could i do that without the physical presence of your pages? i take your words to heart.

    Comment by Holly — December 18, 2008 @ 2:45 am

  17. Kinda funny, as I walked thru my book store tonight with my tall vanilla steamer ($3 Can) I came across your book ($24 reg, on sale for $6)…. so I bought your book – which was on sale, I might add. I had a moment of connection to you and it was really neat. Publishing is alive and well – like everything else it is just changing!

    Comment by Robin — December 18, 2008 @ 3:06 am

  18. I love books and paper and ink pens. I need to start a journal again. Blogging is not the same. Good but different.

    Comment by Mary Ann — December 18, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

  19. I don’t know why they announced it. It def could be some sort of statement-y kind of thing, but it might just mean “This book looks awesome, but I have so much going on and I’m broke so I’ll wait until it’s cheaper and I’ve more time”. Or the commenter may just come from a culture of cheapskates as I do which prides itself on and is excited by bargains and suchlike.

    I adore real books. Precious, concrete, physical (as well as obviously mental).

    I enjoy your blog!

    Troy Blomquist

    Comment by Togenberg — December 18, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  20. I cannot imagine a life without books! I don’t exactly understand the long lines at the coffee shops but I would be grief stricken if I were to lose my books. I am trying to detach from them and I am getting better, but I am not there yet. Thanks for the link. I just ordered Jen’s journal. (or 3)!

    Comment by Kathleen — December 31, 2008 @ 11:49 pm

  21. Great post. Made me think. I will definitely buy your book. Thanks for the advice about publishing too. I am one of the wanna-be published writers looking for the golden ticket into the published kingdom. I hope I don’t have to eat 500 wonka bars to find it.
    Happy New Year

    Comment by Parenthood For Me — January 2, 2009 @ 1:34 am

  22. I am sad about books and about newspapers. In this instance, I find the idea of “impermanence” quite unpleasant. I want books on paper. I want newspapers on paper. Hmmm, I buy books full price, check them out from the library and sometimes buy used. I’ve bought 4-5 copies of your book (all new). My mama friends needed your book.

    Comment by 32poems.com — January 13, 2009 @ 5:54 am

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