So I've been thinking quite a bit over this summer of hell. (Let's not mince words. This has been the most wrenching experience in all our lives here at Alamosa Books.) And I was thinking most about why I tried this mad experiment in bookselling. The publishing industry is, at best, on shaky ground. There is every indication that we will see the end of the brick-n-mortar bookstore in the next ten years. New Mexico is a small, rather impoverished market. And there are a bazillion other factors in the negative column. I know all this and knew all this six years ago when I first began to contemplate my own shop. So why did I think opening a kid's bookstore in New Mexico would work?
Aside from pure bull-headedness, that is. . . and that is not an insignificant factor.
But seriously, there were a few issues that I wanted to address. I thought making any bit of progress on any of these issues was more than worth some risk. What did (do) I see wrong with the world? One, there is a dire need to reconnect kids with the physical world in order for them to understand what is needed to save it. Two, literacy — both "literacy" defined as the ability to comprehend and manipulate written language and "literacy" defined as the foundational cultural knowledge that defines us as human — is dying. Three, imagination and play and the learning how to learn that both engender are becoming rarities in our over-scheduled lives.
I looked at each of these problems in turn. Reconnecting with the physical world? I know I am biased, but when I want to learn about something or learn how to do something I turn to books first. Then I find a place where I can try out what I've learned. So, yeah, bookstore. . . with an emphasis on activities like craft times and story times and many, many books to inspire doing and making and understanding and being in the world. Literacy? Well, duh, bookstore again. (That's a no-brainer.) Play? What better inspiration for imagination and creativity and just plain fun is there than a Dr. Seuss book? Or John Flanagan? Or Tolkien? So, again, bookstore! Plus, with my own shop I could add whole bins of things that serve no purpose in the world except to incite imaginative play. Like dress-up clothes and puppets and art supplies and science kits. So, I thought opening a kid's bookstore would go a long way toward ameliorating the problems of the 21st century for kids in New Mexico.
And I did think that the store would do better than it did. There is a common perception that kids' books are some of the very few recession proof nonessentials. The thought is that adults will always make room in their budget for tools and experiences that improve their child's mind and therefore give them an edge in the world. Books have long been the best tool, though that is changing as we move into the digital age. However, kids' books stand the best chance of holding out longest as paper products because many of them don't translate well to e-readers (e-picture books just plain suck) and because e-readers don't work well with kids. So if there is a durable part of the print industry, I believe the juvenile market is it. Finally, it's very hard to buy books for kids online. Non-specialists need advice and recommendations on the vast selection of (mostly crap) books written for children and teens, and nearly everybody in the world is a non-specialist because adults don't tend to read kids' books and childhood was a while ago and the market has exploded in the last decade. So a good kid's bookstore, one with a high quality selection and a staff that knows its way around the shelves, seems to be the type of brick-n-mortar shop that will last the longest — though not forever. So I thought this shop stood a better than average chance of success, if you define success as "being able to pay the bills". (That's all I was going for, at any rate.)
Plus, I really am pretty good. Not to sprain my elbow and all, but if there is one thing I can do well (and maybe there is ONLY one thing I can do well), it's curate a well-stocked, high-quality inventory of books that will appeal to kids. I am, after all, not much beyond "kid" emotionally and I know what I like. So, armed with my belief that a kid's bookstore is the solution to many of the problems that I think are most dire in the modern world, with the belief that a good kid's bookstore stands a decent chance in these shark-infested retail waters, and with the belief in my own talent, I set out to open a bookstore.
And that didn't work out so very well. . .
But now I'm looking back at these things that prompted me to open a bookstore and reevaluating. Is there another path?
After a few weeks of obfuscation and equivocation during which the answer was fairly screaming at me, I reluctantly answered that question in the affirmative. There is another path. You are looking at it. I decided that all my objectives could indeed be met through this website coupled with a aggressive boarding of Facebook. (Arrrrrr!)
I can not overemphasize how unlikely a candidate I am for a purely digital venture. I have not taken to the information age, mostly because I don't see where the "information" part comes in. It all seems like so much naval gazing and hateful noise. I loathe television (except for baseball and then only with ad excision). I don't turn on my computer unless I have to. I'd rather be out in my garden hunting squash bugs. (Ahem.) I have a cell phone, a purchase made under family duress; I don't use it. I don't know how to text and staunchly refuse to learn. I sneer in the general direction of all social media. (By the by, is that name an intentional irony? I've always wondered. . . ) But on a more fundamental level I think the information-ish age is responsible for many of the problems I would see corrected.
Hence the boarding. . . because I plan to do things my way. (And bedamned all ye web-lubbers who cross me binary carrack!) (Ahem squared.)
To revisit, the goals are to foster and transmit cultural literacy, to reconnect with the real world and hence to acknowledge and solve real problems, and to encourage imaginative play in order to learn how to learn and create. It was not obvious to me that a website could help. But consider. You are reading. You may or may not be agreeing with me. You may be considering lunch. You may be daydreaming about piracy. You may be thinking about squash bugs and wondering what "hunting" entails. You may even be pondering the varied exigencies of childhood in the 21st century — though that's not my fault.
But see? This paltry essay has 1) got you to read my ideas 2) made you consider them along with a few real world issues and 3) allowed your mind to wander off into uncharted waters. Problems solved.
And so. . . the male three-quarters of my family and I are going to use this website and the Alamosa Books Facebook page to accomplish what the Alamosa Books physical store could not. Every day, we will post an activity or bit of bookish news or some calendrical morsel on our Facebook page. Most will encourage readers to do something — some will even (gasp) tell our readers to turn off the computer and get real. Nearly all posts will be fleshed out — and unequivocally linked to books — on our webpage. And there (here) readers will find book reviews; virtual book clubs and discussion pages; our recommendation lists of hip new releases and classics; the occasional publishing industry rant; a calendar of Southwest activities — both of a "book and culture"-ish nature and of a nature-ish nature — and books! Lots of books. No, amend that. Lots of carefully selected, wonderful books that will fire the imagination and inspire readers to get out and live.
The object, as always, is to get kids connected! With books. With each other. With their world.
So with no more ado, I give you. . . Alamosa Books — The Next Generation.