Thursday, January 19, 2012

The View From Barnes & Noble

So, for Christmas, my sister-in-law gave my husband and me each a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble. I haven't been a habitual Barnes & Noble shopper since . . . well, actually, I'm not sure I've ever been a habitual Barnes & Noble shopper, now that I think about it. Whenever I go into any of the large bookstore chains -- and we're talking about, like, in the last 20 years or so -- I find myself unable to find anything to be interested in. Not that I don't sometimes buy things anyway; it's just that when I do, odds are that I've grabbed it more or less at random because I want to get out of the store, and I have no idea if it's a book I'm going to like. Often, it turns out that I don't, and then I feel bad for wasting the money on a book I don't like, which is why I'm not in the habit of shopping at Barnes & Noble.1

The point being that it'd been a long time since I was in a position to check out the gardening section of a large bookstore, and, as there has been some recent talk about book-writing, I figured this would be an excellent chance to check out the situation on the ground, as it were.

And the situation on the ground is this:

Ten shelves of gardening books, each roughly three or four feet long (0.9-1.2 m). So go ahead, open 'em in a separate tab and find the indoor plant books. I'll wait.

No, really. There are two in there. Take your time.

Give up?

The shelves in the other photo have none at all.

To make this all slightly worse, the book on the lower shelf, The Indoor Plant Bible, is spiral-bound. It doesn't look like it in the photo, because there's like a plastic spine attached to the loops to make it look more substantial, but if you open it up, the pages are threaded onto wire loops. It's heavier paper stock than usual, but still -- how long is something like that really going to last a person?

The other book, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, is better, or at least isn't constructed so as to fall apart the tenth time you pick it up, but still. Only two houseplant books. (And I actually didn't realize The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual was there until I got home and was looking through the photos.)2 Even the people who want to grow marijuana have more options on the Barnes & Noble bookshelves, by like, a 2-to-1 margin. (Which, hey, I'm not judging, and I recognize that however illegal growing marijuana might be in the state of Iowa, reading a book about growing marijuana is still legal. I am nevertheless still surprised at the amount of shelf space devoted to an activity no customer could legally do.)

There are two basic emotional responses an aspiring writer of houseplant books can have to a situation like this, and I have been having both of them. The glass-half-empty response is to conclude that Barnes & Noble doesn't believe that books about houseplants sell well enough to devote any shelf space to them, which goes along with what I've been told elsewhere. The glass-half-full response is to notice the almost total lack of competition and conclude that if I could just get a book published, I could have the whole topic almost completely to myself. My brain has synthesized the two responses into the uninspiring conclusion that if I tried really hard and approached the right people in the right ways, over a long enough period of time, I could totally be the biggest, most important authority on a topic about which nobody gives a shit. Which is sort of how I've felt in the garden-blogging community already, so I suppose I could get used to it easily enough.

As for the gift card, I did wind up buying something plant-related from these shelves, though doing so also required the husband's card.3 I'll review it relatively soon (the tentative plan is to post it on 26 January), but I'm not going to tell you which book right now.


1 One of the stranger examples of this is Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public, Ted Koppel's memoir. In hardback, no less. I read it once, have no memory of anything in it, and have packed and unpacked it through three moves now even though I know I have no interest in reading it again. But it seemed like a good idea in the store, apparently.
Nothing against Ted Koppel, by the way. He seems like a decent enough guy.
2 It's also probably true that the two (?) books on orchids are primarily written to people who are trying to grow them indoors, and therefore sort of qualify as houseplant books. Likewise, some of the container-gardening and herb-gardening books (So many herb-gardening books! Whyyyyyyy?) probably at least address overwintering plants in the house, if not growing them indoors year-round, and as such might almost count as houseplant books. There are also a couple books about succulents, which it's not clear just from looking at the books' spines whether they might cover indoor culture or not, but one might give the benefit of the doubt and say that those could also qualify as houseplant books, On the other hand, looking at books about orchids, container gardening, herb gardening, or succulents is not going to help you if you have questions about why your peace lily is going black at the leaf tips,a so those other books only count for just so much.
     a (It's too wet, most likely. You're welcome.)
3 (He volunteered his card before we even left the house, so it's not like I was preventing him from getting something he really wanted, just FYI.)


Ginny Burton said...

Grammar police are knocking at your door:
"gave my husband and ME" (object of the verb needs objective pronoun)

And a typo in the last footnote:
"we even set left the house" (not sure what that was supposed to be)

You're probably still shaken from the eviction from Pierson's and it's taking its toll on your otherwise impeccable writing.

Pat said...

I would imagine that the marijuana usually counts as a houseplant in Iowa.

Owen said...

The last time I went to B&N, I was surprised at the number of marijuana books they had. Maybe they count as indoor growing books, though I guess not really in the context of houseplants...

Diane said...

That houseplant survival manual is pretty good, given the population of houseplant books to choose from. I also have the House Plant Expert but I never refer to it for some reason. For info on specific plants, I go to the web, but I do find books useful when I want to diagnose and treat, or take cuttings, or mix soil, etc. And spiral-bound books can be nice because they stay open while your hands are coated in potting soil, but yeah, they look cheap.

mr_subjunctive said...

Ginny Burton:

Both fixed. The "set left" was just a case of changing a phrasing without deleting all of the old version (most likely "set out from the house" --> "left the house"), which happens to me all the time. The husband and I / husband and me really is odd, 'cause I really do know that, and I don't think I can even use Pierson's as an excuse on that one because I'm pretty sure I wrote and posted it before we ever went to Pierson's.

Joseph said...

Please, please write your book already! The worst case, it will flop, and life will be no different than it is now. Best case, it'll take off and start a new houseplant craze, and you'll be in the position of being an expert that everyone cares about.

Lea's Menagerie said...

Very interesting! I had not noticed the lack of books on indoor plants, but I did wonder why there were several on growing marijuana! I'm going to take another look at those shelves next time I'm in. By the way, next time you are in there, ask if they can order a book you want for you. There is a good chance they can get it within a few days.
Happy reading!

Tom said...

That's so odd...the Barnes and Noble by us has at least a whole shelf of houseplant books (admittedly they have a whole shelf of marijuana books too). I will say, they do have an unnecessary number of "The Best Perennials for Illinois". How do so many publishers allow basically the same book to be printed over and over and over?! They may have different authors but everything in them is the same. Grow Hosta, Daylily, and Yews. If you really want to be exotic look for a tetraploid daylily or a variegated hosta!

Anonymous said...

Mr.S: You're probably sick of hearing this from me, but here goes: Your hook is the fact that you're not only informed, you're funny. In an up-to-the-minute internet sort of way. There's a 'book' that's selling like hotcakes at our garden center right now, by a local author who's become a minor celebrity on Breakfast Television because he proclaims himself an 'expert' on houseplants. I skimmed through his 'book' in 15 min during lunch. It was fine. Nothing new or groundbreaking, certainly nothing entertaining. But this guy is raking it in. You are capable of so much more. I urge you: make the focus of your book your forays into the 'net while in pursuit of plant related topics. It would be a hot mess, it would be legendary, it would be a book I'd want to read.

phantom_tiger said...

True confession: I used to work in a chain bookstore. This is a tricky season to find decent books. Most of the good ones sold at Christmas. The ones that didn't sell should be pulled shortly to get sent back to the publisher. The new ones will be coming out for spring, not quite yet. Plus they hardly ever get more than one or two of the really interesting books actually in the store unless there's some sort of big/local name attached.

I think there is plenty of room for a bk written by you. Practical houseplant books are hard to find, and just because the store doesn't have any doesn't mean people are not looking for them.

I am very interested in a new book called The Encyclopedia of Tropical Plants by Ahmed Fayaz but I haven't seen it in person. I remember reading a bk from the library called Houseplants by Richard Rosenfeld, and wondering why all the 'houseplants' were rare things that can't be found in the average local store. My current fav is 1001 Houseplants by Odile Koenig but it's out of print though it's by no means comprehensive but the pics are decent. So far I haven't found a single book that covers all bases. (This could be you!)

LauraBee said...

Yes, the books on the cultivation of MJ far out-number books on any other single topic at my local B&N, too. Surprising, really, even with CA law allowing for "medical grows". And after ruling out those books that are written by quacks, or intended to grace my coffee table (as if I have space for decorative ANYthing there), or for beginners ... there's not much left for someone like me. That would be someone who knows at least enough to advise beginners, but craves more. Maybe I need to just go enroll in hort classes at the University.

As for herbs, I think folks get the idea that growing your own is a good way to ease into growing more of your meals. And they smell good & look pretty, so it's a double win.

Amy said...

I was a bit more lucky. I used to live next to a BN, and I can always find some books. Well, you can always order the book and have them ship it. I think it's free if you have it ship to the store

As for herb books. I think city people that have never touch gardening tends to start with herb for practical reason, then things... starts getting out of control and the number of pots start to multiple mysteriously in the house. *cough* Me *cough*

By the way, I just started reading your blog, and I would like to blame you for feeding to my addiction and consequently leading me to buy another African violet. I saw your post on variegated AF, and I thought, "What a strange plant." The next day, I stopped by the local nursery since I am new to the area. I curiously peeked into the AF section, remember your post - then I saw one last variegated AF left. It was adorable, and photo does not do it justice! I told myself I should stick to the plan, but I can't stop myself. I would send you a photo of it if I could... but it is a purple one, just a tiny 2 inch with purple blossoms. Yes, pots in my house has mysteriously increased once again. Yes, it's because your blog post are so addicting and hilarious. I especially love the endnotes.

I would be worry if you publish a book, because I would definitely buy it. Addiction, addiction...