A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Friday, October 27, 2006

Garden Bloggers' Book Club inspires a rant

I finally have my copy of "The Essential Earthman", the November selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club. You wouldn't believe what I had to go through to get it. I don't think I've ever really ranted about anything before on this blog but this experience was so egregious, I just have to get it off my chest.

Begin Rant Here

I prefer to own books rather than borrow them from the library. At one point, I had over 1,000 volumes. Then I moved to my current house and unbeknownst to me, the basement floods. I lost almost all of my books before I even had a chance to unpack them. I've been slowly rebuilding my collection ever since.

Mostly I read history and 18th and 19th century novels. My gardening section is woefully small. Buying and reading books for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club seemed like a great idea. Normally, I order from Amazon.com when I know exactly what I want, but to save shipping charges, I decided to visit my local Borders store. They have everything, right? If not, I can always order it through them and do some browsing while I'm there, right?

My first clue that this was going to be a less than optimal undertaking was that at first, I was completely unable to find the gardening section. When I did finally locate it, it was tiny and filled with books written by celebrities, how-to books, "weekend" garden books, "two hour" garden books and other horticultural impossibilities. Nothing by or about Henry Mitchell or anything else I might be even remotely interested in reading.

Undaunted, I proceeded to the Information Desk. The Do-It-Yourself computer was out of order. My heart sunk at the sight of the clerk there who was obviously younger than my own child. I handed him a piece of paper with the author and title written on it and he proceeded to look it up on his computer. He stared at the screen for a long time.

Any parent of teenagers knows that look. It's the "I have no idea what I am looking at, but I would rather die than admit it" look. Obviously thinking that due to my advanced age I knew nothing about computers and would believe anything he told me, he said that not only was was the book not part of their inventory, he wasn't able to find it at all. It didn't exist. I took a deep breath, thanked the young man for his trouble and left.

It took me a week to calm down. After which I visited another Borders store. I didn't even bother looking for the gardening section. I headed straight for the computer and looked up "The Essential Earthman". I understood immediately what was puzzling the clerk. The screen displayed about a dozen versions of the book, all but one labelled "out of print". A single one was labelled "order". Another extremely young clerk asked if I needed help just as I was muttering to myself "I can't believe that this book is out of print". She said "Too bad!" and walked away. I placed my order on the computer, collared the impertinent clerk and demanded to see a manager. Who was not any more helpful. She didn't care that her clerk was rude and refused to help me. She was unable to answer any of questions about the listing on the computer. Her attitude appeared to be that since I had successfully placed my order, I shouldn't waste any more of their time. I took another deep breath, thanked them both for their trouble and left.

I received an email yesterday that my book was in and I picked it up today.

I have some words of advice for Borders: If you are going to drive all of the local bookstores out of business, then hire their employees. At the very least, hire people who know and care about books. You missed a sale. In fact you missed two sales. I don't like leaving a bookstore empty-handed. If I had been waited on by someone who was willing to take some time and "talk books" with me, not only would I have ordered the book I was looking for, I would also have purchased at least one additional volume. Ditto, when I picked up my order. If, instead of wasting time looking for my order because the cashier didn't know the alphabet and then trying to figure out a cash register he was obviously never trained to run, he had "talked books" with me, I would have purchased yet another book.

Now about your inventory. I understand that to lure people into your stores, you have to stock all the latest trash on the bestseller lists. But once you have people reading, you must offer them something more substantial. Classics, books that withstood the test of time. Books that make people think. Books that will make readers want to delve more deeply into a subject and therefore buy and read more books.

Until then, I'm buying my books from Amazon.com.

End rant


At 12:52 PM, Blogger Carol said...

Borders will learn... it's all about service. I am totally disgusted with their gardening book section. I went there the other day because it was raining and I had taken off work for a day. It took me awhile to find the gardening book section. They had moved it, again, and it wasn't labeled. The book selection is poor at best and they had nearly a shelf full of books on how to grow marijuana. Huh? Then when I checked out the clerk complained about having a cold. Great, just what I needed, free with every book, her germs!

I think I ordered my copy of the earthman from a secondary seller on Amazon.com, used. I had no problems at all, but did have to pay a bit of shipping, which was offset by the low price.

I am happy to hear you have found the book. Perhaps our next book selection can be one you already have in your library? In the meantime, I look forward to your comments and impressions of the book.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Xris said...

"... books written by celebrities, how-to books, "weekend" garden books, "two hour" garden books and other horticultural impossibilities."

I concur. Celebrity-written books constitute a "horticultural impossibility."

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Reading Dirt said...

Let me recommend another online source of books: Powell's books. Their store (that takes up a whole city block) may be in Portland, Oregon, but they do have a good online service: http://www.powells.com/

Timber Press will also let you order directly from their website, and they have terrific gardening and horticultural books: http://www.timberpress.com/

I sometimes order through BookSense, which serves independent bookstores, but they generally have you pick up the books at the store.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger OldRoses said...

Carol, I've become so spoiled shopping online that I had forgotten about rude sales clerks. I'm looking forward to reading books that I don't already own. It's a great way to discover authors. I'm loving Henry Mitchell! I'll just go back to buying online.

Xris, it's amazing the junk I saw in that store. And people obviously buy it or Borders wouldn't be stocking it.

Reading, thanks for the suggestions! I would still like to find a physical bookstore where I can pick up and skim interesting books. I just love bookstores!

At 6:26 AM, Blogger Robert Brinkmann said...

I understand your rant!! Borders has gotten really lax at public service. The coffee counter at my local one is the worst. It is dirty and the people who run it are just, well, disinterested in life and in talking or making eye contact.

I too would rather buy online from a bookseller (or ebay). Borders has really gone downhill. I always feel like I've read all the books they have. It looks like a bookstore, but the way they display books, they really only have, like, 23 books. Instead, it seems more like a scrapbook, card, and coffee store with 23 books for sale.

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous john curtin said...

Old Roses - a suggestion - for out of print, hard to find, or just second hand books try www.abebooks.com

I've used it several times and have bought from sellers in the UK,US even as far away as New Zealand. Condition descriptions have been accurate, shipping prompt and the price good. Plus you in contact with people who've a real interest in books.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Naturegirl said...

{{{EEK..Gads!!}}} I sure hope I don't encounter
this lack of interest or knowledge when I go into my local bookstore chain called "Chapters or Indigo" here in Canada!I did want to read that selection.Above John C. gives out a suggestion..I must write it down.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger sewobsessed said...

Hear, hear!
Unfortunately, that attitude isn't just in Borders, it's in retail everywhere. You either get the deer in the headlights, "I have no idea what you're asking, so I'll pretend I do and give you some hoohockey I think you're dumb enough to believe" or the ever present "I dunno" followed by the quick sprint.

Of course, my ideal is an impossibility: Nothing but elderly grandma/grandpa types who know everything about everything and are more than happy to discuss what they do know for hours on end. It's on my Santa list and I've been a good girl...

At 11:50 AM, Blogger OldRoses said...

Thanks everyone for all the wonderful suggestions and encouragement. I went to the Borders website. They claim customer service is their number one priority so I sent them a link to this post and the addresses of the two stores I went to. I'll let you know if they bother getting back to me!

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Nelumbo said...

I tend to buy most of my gardening books after hearing recommendations then going on Amazon or half.com. I do enjoy Borders for browsing magazines and drinking overpriced coffee.


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