On a table labelled “Noteworthy Fiction” at the downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble I find the following 3 books along with about 20 others:
* “Halo Glasslands”:amazon by Karen Traviss. Based on the hit XBox game, the 8th in the series.
* “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion”:amazon by Eric Van Lustbader. Not a new Bourne novel by the (deceased) Robert Ludlum but something contracted by his estate.
* “The Sixth Man”:amazon by David Baldacci. Baldacci.
These may be incredibly entertaining books, I have no idea (tho based on Amazon reviews I am pretty sure I would hate “Halo Glasslands”). I’m not a book snob. I read tons of escapist fare, I love the Jack Reacher novels, I like Harlan Coben, I read science fiction voraciously, I enjoy YA fiction and graphic novels (or “comic books” as I still call them). I read some highbrow stuff too but I enjoy popular fiction. I’ve read every original Ludlum work, I’ve played Halo, I might even be the target audience for these books.
However, I would never call a Reacher novel “noteworthy”. No one is going to be discussing Lee Child novels 100 years from now in a literature class. I expect something of import on a table labelled “noteworthy”. The latest from a Nobel winner. Man-Booker nominees. Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees. Edgar Award winners. Maybe a Hugo or Nebula award winner. Works that will surprise and challenge me.
B&N has plenty of room, they can have plenty of other tables with bestsellers and hot books and the best beach reads and books for long airplane rides and books for Stephen King fans and movie tie-in books and all the other kinds of books that may sell well and may be entertaining. But dammit, can’t they have a table that shows some thought in its selections, that appeals to people who buy and read a lot of books?
This is (one reason) why retail bookstores are in trouble. There is nothing thoughtful or special about the in-store experience. B&N has taken away book space and given it to Nook displays, calendar displays, DVD sales (really? who pays these prices for DVDs?), in-store cafes, etc etc. They’ve invested nothing as far as I can tell in merchandising and selling books. I buy 100s of physical and ebooks during a year, but I left B&N empty-handed. If B&N can’t get me to buy a book each time I am in their store, they are screwing up, my bar just isn’t that high.