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Essay: Is Independent Code for Adult?

Julia Spencer-Fleming, the author of this essay as well as the Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne novels, filled in for me on my blog, Hey, there's a Dead Guy in the Living Room, while I was on vacation. I share blog space with a writer, an editor, an agent, and a publicist. I know some of you already read the blog but I thought this was such a hoot maybe you won't ming reading it twice! And don't forget to visit Julia at

This holiday weekend coinciding with Jeff and I both having new releases out, I was going write a persuasive essay on buying books as the highest form of American patriotism. But it started to sound a little bit too much like this news story, wherein we learn of a significant uptick in internet porn revenue following the receipt of the government's aptly-named stimulus checks.

When I was a youth, of course, grown-ups who were interested in watching such fine fare as Three Gals and a Donkey had to slink into greasy-doored "adult bookshops," located in seamy side streets of every city in America, readily identifiable (the bookshops, not the cities) by the craft paper taped over the display windows. Young persons had to content themselves with hanging around on the sidewalk, hoping for a revealing tear, or, alternately, stealing glossy girly mags from beneath Dad's side of the bed.

No stimulated income made its way into such stores this spring, however, because they have gone the way of the livery stable and dirigible booking office. Just as video killed the radio star, the internet laid waste to "adult" bookshops. The once-seedy streets they inhabited have become cobble-stoned pedestrian malls, and the papered-over windows now reveal aging hipsters sipping soy lattes.

Sic transit gloria mundi. In light of this sobering development, we must ask ourselves: are "independent" bookstores the next to go?

A thoughtful comparison of the "independent" and the "adult" bookstore may reveal the answer.

Is "independent" a euphemism for "adult?"

Clearly, yes. As an example, fellow blogger Robin Agnew's store, Aunt Agatha's, is located in downtown Ann Arbor, an area many patrons must be licensed drivers to reach. The store itself is stocked with books, some running upwards of 400 pages, some with the sort of vocabulary rarely found outside of medical school textbooks. Those wishing to purchase the books must have cash or credit cards, both notoriously difficult for children to obtain. Aunt Agatha's "independent" bookstore is obviously meant for "adults."

Is there an area for non-reading related activity, if you know what I mean, and I think you do?

Yes. Aunt Agatha's fronts a "yoga studio" where members of the public are ushered in - sometimes at night - for "author events."

Does the "independent" bookstore cater to "unique tastes" by offering merchandise patrons cannot find elsewhere?

Absolutely. The erstwhile "adult" bookstore, catering to the needs of its clientele no matter how obscure, featured books and movies representing activities now only practiced by a dwindling number of congressmen and fundamentalist preachers.

Aunt Agatha's "independent" bookstore stocks out-of-print tomes unavailable at the run-of-the-mill big box store, so that the three readers in Michigan still eager to devour every last Erle Stanley Gardner story can have their needs met.

Does the internet threaten "independent" bookstores?

It certainly can. If enough of us choose to spend our stimulus checks online, great bookstores like Aunt Agatha's and Creatures n' Crooks Bookshoppe and Murder by the Book and M is for Mystery - and so many, many more, will go the way of the "adult" bookstore.

Sure, it's embarrassing to be seen walking into your local bookstore. Hiding the latest Cat Who... mystery in the back of the closet isn't as easy as password-protecting a computer file. And yes, maybe the owner does look at you a little funny when you ask for the latest Arsene Lupin penny dreadful.

But what sort of America do we want on this Independence Day week-end? A land filled with vibrant, unique bookstores? Or a land of overcaffienated, laptop-hugging loafers?

It is the patriotic duty of every right-thinking American to march to his or her local bookstore and buy books, preferably

I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming
(St. Martin's Minotaur, 24.95) I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming
and It Happened One Knife by Jeffrey Cohen
(Berkley Prime Crime, 6.99). It Happened One Knife by Jeffrey Cohen

Act now, before it's too late.


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