Bookseller Chick has an interesting post on the subject of bookshops that don’t stock particular books or otherwise isolate books the owners/operators find distasteful. I’ve been thinking about it now for a while and it seems to me that there’s an underlying question:
Does a bookseller have an obligation to her customers? And if so, what’s the nature of that obligation?
In any business the idea is to make money. A bookseller is no different. Talking for a moment here about an independent bookstore, the owner has (1) a limited amount of space and resources (2) a customer base to keep interested (3) her own opinions and priorities.
What independent bookseller can stock everything? Is it better to stock a lot of one thing or a little of everything? If I go into a bookstore looking for Faulkner or Byatt or Crusie and they don’t have it, what conclusions do I draw from that?
It depends on what happens when I ask. The bookseller who says, I’m sorry I don’t have that in stock, can I order it for you? — that’s somebody I can strike up a conversation with. I may not agree on his or her reasons for not stocking romance, but as long as she’s polite and as long as she recognizes she’s going to lose some potential customers, really, she’s met all her obligations, as far as I can see.
If I owned a small bookstore there are books I wouldn’t stock. I can name two titles: American Psycho, and The Anarchist’s Cookbook. They have a lot in common, these two books. You want to blow something up, you want to torture women to death? You want at least to read about these things — that’s up to you, but I’m not going to stock the books. If you ask me, I will check with other booksellers and the library to see where you can find it, but that’s the extent. If you ask me why, I’ll say simply that I have made a decision based on my own principles and priorities.
And that would be my right, just as it’s the anarchist’s right to go find the book someplace else and never come into my bookstore again.
Of course, if I limit my stock to books about civil war reenactment and dominoes, I will go out of business, and that will be entirely my own fault.
My two cents.