Gratification, at what cost?

I just did something I feel terrible about. I bought two books from Amazon. The books are not used, they’re not out of print, and they shouldn’t be particularly hard to find. They’re both published by independent presses (as are most of the books I buy and read), both good-sized and (I thought) well-distributed presses (Counterpath and City Lights). And I didn’t start at Amazon, to be fair.

I started by calling the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge, MA, where I go every chance I get now that I’m back on the east coast. They didn’t have them in stock, which isn’t surprising, it’s a very small store and the poet isn’t a hugely well know one. But the woman (not the person I usually talk to there) not only couldn’t remember the titles of the books I was asking for as she was looking them to order them, but was unable to find either in her database (though both are in print and available through the publishers). Ok, so they didn’t have them and couldn’t order them, at least not in the 15 minute conversation I had with the woman there.

Then I called the Harvard Bookstore, another Cambridge independent institution. I bring all my friends who visit Boston there, and we usually end up buying something unexpected and wonderful. They’re a little better organized than Grolier, so though they didn’t have the books in the store the woman was able to find that both are distributed through SPD, and could be ordered for me. But because of SPD’s apparently extremely outdated system, it would take several weeks to order them.

Normally that wouldn’t be a problem for me, I have a constant stream of books to read and waiting a few weeks for new ones isn’t usually an issue. But in this case, I’m really into this writer and taking a few weeks off from reading him doesn’t appeal. So, while I was on the phone with the HBS, I jumped onto Amazon, just to see if they were available. And they were. Next-day shipping free.

Well, the moral is I bought them from Amazon for the most selfish of reasons: I wanted them sooner. I was going to be in Boston on Friday, and would have happily waited to pick them up until Friday. And I could have called more independent bookstores in the Boston or Providence area. But it was not just a little more convenient but SO MUCH EASIER to order them from Amazon. I put over half an hour into this, when I could have from the start just went online and click-ordered them. So I at least made an effort, which is more than many might do. It just seems absurd to me that something that I can get literally immediately should take several weeks from a brick-and-mortar independent store. And it’s a shame that I bought into the instant gratification consumerist mentality. For that I feel bad.

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