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What are you reading?

November 21, 2010

Once upon a time in the late 1970’s I discovered a small independent bookstore at the corner of Franklin Avenue and 4th Avenue South in south Minneapolis called Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore. Inside that small store I discovered a universe of science fiction and fantasy stories that I never knew existed. Behind the tall counter was a man named Scott Imes. I didn’t know Scott Imes so I won’t write about him other than to say that simply put, the man was a genius. And I’m not talking about a regular genius, I’m talking about Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions winner genius. Scott’s been gone for awhile now and coming up on the ninth anniversary of his passing, I think I could safely say he’s missed by everyone who ever picked up a science fiction or fantasy book in the Twin Cities.

Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's storefront on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis

The reason I started thinking of Scott Imes today was because I had been reading the latest Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s (Uncle Edgar’s is Uncle Hugo’s mystery bookstore brother which opened a few years after Uncle Hugo’s) quarterly newsletter and read two bits of sad news from the owner of the two Uncles, Don Blyly. The first concerned the decline in sales of traditional books:

“I just read a report that for the month of September e-book sales surged and traditional book sales plunged. Mass market sales, adult trade paperback sales, and adult hardcover sales all dropped by double digits compared to the year before, with adult hardcover sales dropping by an amazing 40.4%.

And the second bit of sad news concerned the closing of two local independent bookstores.

“The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently reported on 2 more area independent books stores (both used books only) closing by the end of the year and going to internet-only sales.”

I know it’s appealing to buy books online. Ease of shopping, oftentimes no sales tax, delivery right to your door, it’s difficult to turn away from that. It’s also difficult to turn away from e-readers and the ability to purchase a book from your living room couch at a lower cost and be reading it in seconds. But for me it’s also difficult to face the end of independent book sellers. Without bookstores like Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgars, and without people like Scott Imes, I’m not sure I’d be a reader and booklover to the extent I am today. So, if you like to read and you love books, please try and visit one of the locally owned independent booksellers in your area. Just one book every so often can make a difference. And if you really want to continue buying books online, check out the Uncle’s online store.

Short video of Emma Bull and Will Shetterly at Uncle Hugo’s.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Fordy permalink
    November 21, 2010 11:46 am

    This also saddens me, as there’s nothing quite like the feel of a real traditional book when reading. The feel of the paper as you turn the pages.

    I recently discovered a hidden little used bookstore (inside what used to be a small little dollar matinee). Books were stacked everywhere, down what used to be aisles in the movie theatre. I could easily have spent several days just perusing the titles, and discovering a new world hidden inside the pages. Something I fear wouldn’t be possible looking at e-book titles on a website.

    As to the subject heading (which jumped out at me in google reader – LOL), I am currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s “Warbreaker”. Since he was hired to complete the Wheel of Time (You should read it soon, the final novel comes out between Nov 2011 and March 2012), I’ve discovered a very good no author – his world building is particularily engaging.


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 21, 2010 4:31 pm

      I just looked up Brandon Sanderson and I’m going to get the Mistborn trilogy. It sounds great! My problem with fantasy, and why I stopped reading it, is because the writers would just go on and on and never really finish the story. That probably shouldn’t bother me if the stories are entertaining but it does, especially if the stories aren’t self-contained.

      I’m reading the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy.


      • Fordy permalink
        November 21, 2010 4:41 pm

        Laney loves the Hunger Games, and is on the waiting list for the second book in the series. (Same with the new Rick Riordan Olympian series, which she got into on a recommendation ultimately from you – LOL).

        The Mistborn trilogy is great, in that it is a self-contained series; each novel in it has a clear ending (so you don’t feel like you only got part of the over-all larger story). That was actually the first Sanderson I read after hearing he’d be doing Wheel of Time.


  2. Fordy permalink
    November 21, 2010 12:30 pm

    That should be “New Author” not “No Author” – D’oh!


  3. November 21, 2010 4:03 pm

    The ramifications of the digital age. Such a sad reality but true. I love my e-book reader, but there is nothing like going into a used bookstore to browse for that inevitable gem. Time to go browsing again!


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 21, 2010 4:35 pm

      Happy browsing! I’ve gone to look at a Nook close to a dozen times now and every time I go I’m thinking today is the day I’m going to buy one and I always leave not buying. I like the feel and I like the screen and I like the ease of reading, but it’s just not a book! I want to feel and smell paper. What e-reader do you use?


  4. CELT permalink
    November 21, 2010 5:42 pm

    I too am an avid reader. I used to buy my books via bookclubs and used to wait weeks for them to arrive. When Amazon came along ( in Canada) I started buying my books there because of convenient browsing from my computer chair, price, diversity of available books, AND the quick delivery – sometimes in under a week from placing the order, delivered right to my door. I have shopped in local book stores, both independent and chains – the local Chapters Indigo is right down the road in fact – but usually the prices online at Amazon are better and once when I was busy all week I actually ordered from Chapters/Indigo online and received the books in 3 days which was faster than I could have spared the time to go our and get them in person just down the road. It’s nice to browse physically in person in the bookstore when I have the time but the reality is that 99% of the time now Amazon is my supplier and I put in approx 3 large orders every year with multiple books that keep hubby and I reading for months till the next order.

    I hate reading ebooks on my computer, preferring to hold a book in my hand and take it to bed to read. Hubby on the other hand orders and reads ebooks more than hardcovers now. I have purchased a Kindle for him for Christmas and I KNOW he will use and love it. Who knows, maybe I will borrow it too as long as I can take it to where I want to read and not be tied to the computer.

    I doubt if I will ever stop reading or stop reading books unless they snatch them from my hands so I really hope there are others like me who will keep real books alive because I feel they still have an important place in society considering not everyone is hooked up to electronic means that lets them enjoy ebooks so for them, real books are still the only way they have to read. Personally I like the option to go either way and I only hope that the book doesn’t entirely disappear. After all, even vinyl records are still available and in fact becoming more and more available every day to the purists that still insist the sound is warmer. Well that’s the same way I feel about a book I can pick up and put down and actually turn the pages. They’re easier on the eyes in the same way vinyl is said to be easier on the ears to some so I’ll keep collecting and enjoying real books thank you.


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 22, 2010 4:29 pm

      I feel the same about books and being able to hold them. One e-reader attraction though is that it’s so small and ‘holdable’. If you get a big paperback, something 1,000+ pages, or a hardcover, it’s sometimes difficult to hold them for long with one hand.


  5. November 21, 2010 11:36 pm

    Hi! I’m on Blogger ( and on WordPress too. I found you on NaBloPoMo.

    I so totally agree with you. The switch to e-shopping and e-reading will hurt independent booksellers a lot, which is a shame!


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 22, 2010 4:31 pm

      Hi gaelikaa and thanks for reading and commenting! I’m not really sure how the indepenents survived the invasion of Barnes and Noble and Borders but the fact that they did maybe bodes well for them in the battle against e-readers? The great thing about the Uncles bookstores I wrote about is the depth of their selection which is something the chains can’t claim.


  6. Sheila Ehrich permalink
    November 22, 2010 12:40 pm

    I am also continually being saddened by the loss of independent bookstores in the Twin Cities. When Ruminator (formerly Hungry Mind) closed, they actually had a wake and it felt very appropriate. I had been a customer there since they opened in the early ’70s

    One of my favorite used bookstores is Sixth Chamber on Grand in St. Paul. There books cover a wide variety of topics and they also have an online feature. When I get the booklist for the book group I belong to at the local library in Lakeville in January, I immediately go to their website and enter those books on my want list. I’d say that out of the 11 books we read each year I usually am able to get 7 to 8 of them from Sixth Chamber. I also look for them at Magers & Quinn.

    Also, when I see book reviews for books that I will want I wait about 2-3 months then add them to my want list at Sixth Chamber as they often get best sellers not too long after they come out and in some of the more esoteric areas that I’m interested in.

    One online option for an independent bookstore is Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. They have a totally amazing catalog of books new and used. If you are a biblophile and are ever in Portland, you should plan on spending a day there with a book allowance to match!


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 23, 2010 6:04 pm

      Hi Sheila and thanks for the tip about Sixth Chamber. I’d never heard of them before and now I’m going to and check them out. Assuming the weather ever clears up enough for me to brave a drive over to St. Paul!


  7. November 23, 2010 11:40 am

    Always pleased to see people liking Uncle Hugo’s; I’ve been shopping there myself since the 70s, and knew Don Blyly and Scott Imes before then, through the Minnesota Science Fiction Society. Also Greg Ketter, who runs the OTHER local SF bookstore, Dreamhaven Books (they’re at 38th St. and 23rd Ave. in South Minneapolis). It’s amazing that Minneapolis supports two SF bookstores; so many cities can’t support one. I know of SF specialty stores that have closed in Boston and Chicago and out in the SF Bay area (though they still have one going).

    I’ve got a huge collection of books at this point, but I somehow missed imprinting on used bookstores anywhere near as strongly as most fans seem to. I didn’t have any near me until I already had a considerable collection — so I rarely found anything especially exciting in them. I think it’s that early stage when you don’t have any books and you don’t have any money that you find wonderful things on every shelf! And I missed out on that.

    I’m a big fan of ABEbooks and other online used book sources. It means I can actually find the things I’m looking for!

    Also a big fan of ebooks. Project Gutenberg is a wonderful source for older works in the public domain, including a surprising amount of early SF (often in the original magazine versions, rather than the book versions that were published later). Also, Baen books has released a huge amount of stuff, including all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan SF and all of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books, on their free CDs and in the Baen Free Library. The CDs are collected online here.

    I won’t touch ebooks with copy protection (DRM), though. I want the books I buy to be accessible all the rest of my life! Mostly these days I read on my Android phone; before that, mostly on Palm PDAs, going back to their very first products.

    (The photo of Uncle Hugo’s looks suspiciously like the one I provided for the Time Magazine Top 50 article, and the video is definitely one I shot and uploaded since it’s under my account on YouTube; I’m amused. I didn’t remember superimposing titles on it, but that’s my account name so I must have.)


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 23, 2010 6:27 pm

      Hi David, I don’t know the origin of the photo, but it’s the one on the Uncle’s homepage. Project Gutenberg is a great archive. I’ve found Burroughs’ Mars books there but haven’t read them yet. Guess I’m stuck between not wanting to print the pages off and not wanting to buy an e-reader!


      • November 24, 2010 9:01 am

        For me the last thing I want is another electronic gadget. I read on my phone, or pda, whatever I have with me. The pages are smaller than a paperback, but turning the page is much much easier and quicker so it’s not a problem (just a quick finger or thumb press). Also I can read while eating with much less chance of messing up my book (or device) since I don’t need both hands to turn the page. This also means I always have my book with me.


        • Michael Fishman permalink
          November 25, 2010 5:44 am

          Ah, David, you’re making me jealous and adding weight to the “Yes, buy an e-reader” side of the scale! I downloaded the Nook app for Blackberry and trying to read anything on that 2″ screen was almost impossible and turning the page took forever.



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