Babel Clash Special Content: Jeff Mariotte

ack in November, Jeff Mariotte joined Bill Slavicsek and Ed Greenwood to chat all things Dungeons & Dragons.  Aside from all the writing he does, Jeff is also one of the co-owners of the Mysterious Galaxy book store in San Diego.  If you’re in the area, I highly recommend you pay them a visit.  The specialize in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and the mystery genres.  You can check them out on the web here for more info –

I was very excited to see Jeff send this blog along.  It really hits home on a number of fronts, so please give it a read.

I’ve been a bookseller for a long, long time.

I got my first bookstore job in 1980, at Books Inc. in San Jose, CA. That store, part of the regional Books Inc./Hunter’s Books chain, was a big one, and during my tenure there it got bigger and busier. After a while, I was promoted to paperback buyer, and after three years, offered a management job at one of the southern California Hunter’s Books stores. I moved to San Diego and took over the La Jolla store, running it until the company shut down all of its SoCA branches. Shortly thereafter, with my wife Maryelizabeth Hart and our business partner Terry Gilman, I helped found specialty bookstore Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. Eighteen-plus years later, MG is still going strong, and we’re about to open our second location, in Redondo Beach.

During those early Books Inc. and Hunter’s Books years, I kept hearing whispers about stores called Borders Books. Those are great stores, people said. They’re huge, and well-stocked, and they really care about the books they sell.

At that time, the big chains were B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Crown was moving in, discounting books and creating price competition, but to them, books were simply merchandise. There were individual booksellers at Crown stores who felt differently, who loved books and loved selling them—bookselling, never a highly lucrative profession, has always attracted people who love books—but I once hired an ex-Crown employee who had been disciplined by his store manager by breaking company rules and actually going onto the floor to talk to customers about books. The horror!

So the Borders whispers sounded great. Then they stopped being whispers and started being open discussions. Borders and Barnes & Noble started competing not on the basis of price, as Crown did, but on the basis of having large, fully stocked stores, often with cafes and sideline items, even music and movies. They were destination stores, where you could spend a rainy afternoon or a Saturday night browsing, sitting, conversing, and go home with shopping bags full of great stuff.

To be sure, there have always been independent bookstores with this same spirit, and they were considerably less corporate, less homogenous. The superstores, as those Borders and B&N stores came to be called, borrowed heavily from places like Denver’s Tattered Cover and Austin’s BookPeople and other great indies around the world. But the big chains could open such stores all over the country (and beyond), because they were capitalized to an extent that indies could never be.

These days, I don’t have my hands in day-to-day bookselling like I once did. I’ve been too busy writing books—and as a working writer, glad for every bookstore and every bookseller. I’ve even gone over to the enemy in part, releasing some new works as original e-books rather than going the traditional publishing route. The world of books and publishing is changing fast, and I’m trying to stay current. Should you be so inclined, you could probably find my new thriller The Devil’s Bait and my collection of short horror fiction Nine Frights online, as well as a YA paranormal novel called Carnival Summer and an e-book reprint of horror epic The Slab.

But the e-book thing is only a small part of what I do. This year I’ve had one novel published traditionally, CSI: The Burning Season, and a short story in the award-nominated San Diego Noir anthology, and more is on the way.

So I have multiple reasons to mourn the loss of Borders. As a bookseller, I hate to see any store shutter its doors. As an author, I need bookstores to exist, to thrive, so readers will have a place to discover my work. As a reader, I recognize that no online shopping experience will ever match the thrill of exploring bookshelves, of wandering a store and looking at the tables, of finding books that I never knew existed and never could have sought out, but just had to own. As a collector, I appreciate the efforts bookstores make to bring authors into cities large and small, so we can meet and listen to and converse with them, and get our beloved books autographed. As a human being, I love the sense of community that bookstores bring to their neighborhoods. Bookstores are gathering places for literate, like-minded souls.

When they go away, the day is darker for us all.

So this is my thanks to Borders, for being there and breathing new life into the bookstore world when it was badly needed. I wish the occasion for it was a happier one. But because of Borders, there are tens of thousands of booksellers and ex-booksellers out there, and untold numbers of readers. That’s a contribution to the literary community and to the world that cannot be denied, and that will not vanish just because the stores (and this website) do.

For that, and all the books and words and friends and fun, we can all be grateful.

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