Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nonfiction Friction

Had a little “writers date” this morning with my wife. We enjoyed some authentic and oh so delicious crepes at Crepes ‘n Crepes before heading to the downtown Tattered Cover Book Store for a book signing and author Q&A.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of shopping for books in Denver, the Tattered Cover is one of the best independent bookstores in America. Aside from having an amazing selection, each store has a friendly staff of book readers who are genuinely concerned about their customer’s satisfaction. How refreshing. And the store has this unmistakable atmosphere of creativity. You just know other writers and readers and artists shop there. I could easily spend a whole day and a whole paycheck at any of the three Tattered Cover stores. And even if I have neither, I still find it impossible to leave without buying at least one book.

Today was no different. I was perusing the new non-fiction shelf—which I’m doing more and more these days—and found The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman. It details how Wal-Mart has changed America’s economy and the way we shop. The blurb on the back made the book seem both interesting and educational. But perhaps what really struck me wasn’t the content but that minimalist cover. It was sharp. Clean. And it begged for me to take it home.

It’s a nonfiction book with no real commercial ties, so I doubt it’ll ever have any monetary value. And because there’s a good chance I won’t read it until years after it’s published in paperback, there was no good reason for me to spend the $25 right then and there.

My mind pushed these notions away with hardly a glance, as if I were shooing away a fly that wasn’t particularly annoying. Before I had even made a decision to buy it, I was looking at the dust jacket of each book on the shelf (there were three) and opening each just enough to hear which one had the tightest spine (I just love that creaking groan of a tight book).

After choosing one, I second-guessed myself before I managed to take even a step. And if there’s even a seed of doubt, I’ve learned that it’s better not to fight it. So I went through the whole process a second with the two best copies and determined that, yes, I was indeed right the first time.

My prize under my arm, I peaked around the corner, scanning the area for my wife. Ah, there she is over by the…oh wait, look, another stack of The Wal-Mart Effect. I made short work of the four copies and pronounced them unfit to supplant the current copy as the one that would make my own.

Later, when we pulled up to our townhouse, our writers date complete, I turned the book over in my hand. My eyes immediately found a scratch-like indentation on the back cover just below the bar code, only visible with the book titled just so.

“Oh no,” I said.

“What happened?” Stephanie asked. I showed her the back cover. When she didn’t notice the problem as quickly as she should have, I pointed it out to her. Then she gave me that look. The one she uses when she’s humoring my inner-collector. The one where she rolls her eyes without rolling her eyes and shakes her head without shaking her head. “Don’t worry, Dear. It’s a nonfiction book. It’ll never be worth anything.”

“So! That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a pristine copy,” I said, looking over the dust jacket to see if I had missed any other blemishes. But she wasn’t listening. She was already on her way to the front door. Which was fine, because I wasn’t there either. No really. No, I was already upstairs putting a protective Bro-Dart on the dust jacket, hoping it would cover up that imperfection.

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