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In Honor of the Life of Books

(click here to read the Call to Action and chance to win a free issue of Poetry magazine)

It Starts With a Death, Just Like in Dickens

Borders is going bankrupt. A company that has been around since 1971 is suddenly insolvent. And it’s because within two years of Kindles and iPads and Nooks coming on the scene, they have tipped the scale away from physical books in ways the internet could never touch.

Still, the internet is a part of the problem. I admit, I’m not one to talk. I post famous poems online and have been doing so for four years. I get a lot of readers. I make no money off this, but poems posted online mean that people don’t have to go to bookstores to search out that volume where that illusive poem resides.

I also write and publish a monthly e-mag. My writers and I do our research online, I do the layout online, and the final product is sent to readers via email. Again, this costs them nothing. We do it because we love it. But it also means that we are one more entity competing with print magazines for their time and attention.

I do these things because I’ve always wanted to be a writer and publisher and sharer of poetry and I was able to take the matter into my own hands through the tool of the internet. I do it because it is fast and affordable and easy this way. But I would also love to have print versions of the magazine. I would love to be able to put books in print. And I would love to be able to sell printed books. I spent four years trying to sell a printed book of poetry that included work by poets as famous as Rainer Maria Rilke. It was nearly impossible to sell the damn thing.

Too Many Books? Or Too Little Time?

You go into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble and you see the mountains of books, just spilling over each other. And this is just the stuff they chose to exhibit, and much of it will be turned over quickly. You have all this product to sell, all the writers clamoring for agents who are clamoring to publishers who are trying to push the books they do choose to publish into stores so they can run as businesses. And people go into bookstores and they feel great. They get that bookstore feeling. They get a latte and sit down with the latest Martha Stewart instructional or an Oprah book or something strange and hidden in the recesses of the Sci Fi shelf and they FEEL GOOD. They feel good and then maybe they leave with one book. Maybe. $7.99. Or $11.99.

And then comes the day when they get a Kindle. Someone buys it for them for Christmas. And at first they are skeptical. But then they realize they can read anything at any time, right there. And it weighs nothing. And you can buy the book online and get it right now. So they continue to go to Borders to relax, get a cup of coffee, and browse, but it’s for the ambiance. The books they are buying they already bought online and stored in a hand held device.

I don’t own a Kindle. I don’t want to own a Kindle. I know this may seem hypocritical since I immerse myself in online publishing, but to me there is something that I don’t want to do – and that is read books online. I’ll read e-zines, I’ll even read short stories, but I don’t want to spend a week with a book online. And I don’t want to spend a week with a book in the form of a piece of plastic in my hand.

Some Things Mean More When There is Paper Involved

I want the paper. I want the binding, the cover, the smell, the tears, strains and folds. I want my world of books to not go away. I want some part of my creative life to not be tethered to this machine that is taking over greater and greater territory in my soul. I want to find a way for publishers to publish less, but publish better. And in the meantime for writers and editors and booksellers and agents and those of us born for this work to have opportunities to work. To have sustainable businesses that aren’t built on a housing bubble version of publishing.

Whether its government subsidies for real, working writers and editors; whether its that we, as people, start paying for content online instead of expecting everything for free; whether it’s that we find more uses for writers and editors and pay them appropriately and fairly for what they give us – whatever it is, the death of Borders, to me, means we really are looking at the potential death of books. And from what I’ve seen working as an editor for fiction writers, the increase in sales of eBooks may mean more revenue for publishing houses, but it also puts book printers out of business.

What We Choose Without Choosing

We live in a capitalist society. Free trade. Supply and demand. We vote about what we care about with what we buy. And as life speeds up, we make choices not because they reflect our real values, but because we are making choices right and left that save time and effort. We don’t know exactly why we’re so busy – all the modern inventions were supposed to save us time. But we are. We are busy and harried and scared for our jobs and we have to have people build us websites just to get us to do nothing for two minutes.

Again, I am as guilty as anyone. I have offered free content online for years. Of my work and the work of others. I did it because I love literature and because I somehow believed it was right. But when we undervalue ourselves and others, we don’t enact ‘freedom of information’ or a ‘democratization of the beautiful.’ We say, well, I spent 15 hours on this. But it was enjoyable so it isn’t worth much. Have at it. Cheers.

Again, we live in a capitalist society with capitalist ideologies. Though we have certain socialist threads woven in, we are fundamentally trained to associate cost with value. When we give away our work for free, people gladly take it, and promptly forget about it. Because they have not put any of their symbolic value (money) into it. As I said, some things mean more when there is paper involved.

A Commemoration and a Call to Action

In early March, this blog will be four years old. In less than two days in will reach 100,000 hits. I’ve been thinking of  way to commemorate this. To imagine what it means in the grand scheme of things. What the readers’ lives are like. What we celebrate both them and the life of poetry represented here.

I don’t want bookstores to go away. I don’t want poetry to be so damn hard to sell that you have to give it away. I don’t want the best poets I know to be sleeping on friend’s couches or struggling through PhDs to find out there are no teaching jobs. We create an economy for the things we love by spreading around our money.


A Call to Action

So, here is what I am asking.

1) Buy a book of poetry.

Go to Borders, Barnes and Noble, to your local indie bookstore, anywhere not online that sells physical book and buy a book of poetry.

2) Take a picture of yourself with the book in front of the store.

  • Tell me
    1) the title of the book and
    2)the bookstore you bought it from and
    3)if you want, a little bit about why you chose the book and
    4) a bit about yourself

3) I’ll publish the pictures and captions here at NinaAlvarez.com.

One per post with links to the bookstore and links to you. And if you’re a poet yourself, let us know where we can read you.

The Prize:

Ten submitters will be randomly chosen to receive a FREE COPY of the April 2011 issue of Poetry Magazine when it comes out.


In honor of reaching 100,000 readers, in honor of 4 years of NinaAlvarez.net, Poetry Month in April, because I am pissed about Borders, and mostly in honor of the life of BOOKS!

END DATE: This starts NOW and will continue until NinaAlvarez.net turns four years old, March 7, 2011.

Here is the facebook Call to Action. Feel free to share it around. Just make sure people post to Nina Alvarez on facebook or email me here.


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