Recently, we’ve heard a lot about how the Internet is changing how Americans shop. E-commerce is causing a radical shift in how we buy and sell.
I’m more concerned, however, with how e-commerce affects me personally. In only a month, online shopping changed me from a (relatively) sane, sober citizen into a jumble of impulses. My experience shows that, where e-tail is, impulse lurks close behind; and where impulse lurks, one thing leads to another. And you never know where you’ll end up. For example—
Thanks to a quirky laptop, I could download e-books but couldn’t open them. The quirk led to Impulse #2: I had to buy an e-reader. Immediately.
The basic Kindle, which was all I wanted—I am Luddite enough to be offended when a telephone doubles as everything from a camera to a washing machine—was on sale, so I ordered it. Impatience led to Impulse #3, paying extra for faster delivery.
When the Kindle arrived and was charged up, I downloaded Echoes in Darkness and devoured it whole. Kate’s story leads off, and it’s exactly what a ghost story should be: unsettling at first, and after the last word, chilling. The seven companion stories follow suit.
Now, sometimes purchases made without serious thought are followed by buyer’s remorse. But not in this case. I designated them as an early Christmas gift and let regret take care of itself. However…
Although the Kindle is labeled an e-reader, it’s really a library. And my library had only one book.
To a former librarian, a library with one book is like a matador’s cape to a bull, the perfect excuse for charging. (In more ways than one.)
Thus I arrived at Impulse #4: Scheduled to attend author John Pipkin’s workshop on writing historical fiction, I needed to read his bestselling novel, Woodsburner. So I downloaded it.
The next day, I recalled my critique group, Austin Mystery Writers, would soon host its own workshop. Three guest authors would present the program, and the least I could do was become familiar with their work.
I had already read Janice’s Hamrick’s latest mystery, Death Rides Again, but had not read any of Reavis Wortham’s work. Impulse #5: I downloaded The Rock Hole, the first in his Red River series. Impulse #6: The prices of the other two books in the series were so low that, to paraphrase my great-aunt Lydia, I’d have lost money if I hadn’t bought them. Downloaded them.
I’d known our third presenter, Karen MacInerney, for years and had read all of her Gray Whale Inn cozy series. But one of her short stories was on sale for mere pennies. Impulse #7: Downloaded.
Still, I felt no regret. Impulses #4 through #7 were necessary for professional development.
By this time, things had snowballed. A fellow writer recommended Carolyn Kaufman’s The Writer’s Guide to Psychology and Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. I downloaded. An ad for The Book Thief triggered Impulse #9, a download of the book.
Waiting for Donna Tartt’s visit to the local indie bookstore, I yielded to Impulse #10, a pre-order of The Goldfinch.
Regarding that last, I admit experiencing discomfort. In line at the bookstore’s coffee shop, I found myself standing beside a shelf of massive—more than eight hundred pages—hardback copies. A wave of longing swept over me. I wanted to curl up with one, feel its weight, turn its pages slowly, one by one, and wallow in Essence of Book.
But that was all spilt milk.
The Goldfinch was my last download. Perhaps the thought of its length stopped me. Perhaps I decided ten impulses were enough. Perhaps I simply came to my senses.
Looking back on the month-long binge, I find two things remarkable.
The first is that I bought the Kindle at all. I’d never wanted an e-reader. When I read, I wanted real words in real ink on real paper.
Now, though, I seem to have entered the 21st century. I occasionally try to turn a page by swatting the machine with my right hand. But that will end.
The second remarkable thing is the tiny dent all those downloads—which, if I were facing facts, I would call purchases—put in my pocketbook. Most were priced in the one digits. The low one digits. Some were free.
The pocketbook issue continues to make online shopping attractive. Browsing the catalog, I’ve turned up more bargains: The Complete Works of Edith Wharton for a pittance; the novels of Henry James for even less.
As I said earlier, when you’re dealing with impulse, one thing leads to another.
In my case, impulse led to serendipity, down the primrose path to my own well-stocked library.
Just what I’ve always wanted.