Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The King's English, Betsy Burton, Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2005, 302 pp

The subtitle is Adventures of an Independent Bookseller and that is what this excellent book is about. Betsy Burton opened her store, The King's English, in 1977 and despite all the woes heaped on indie bookstores since that time, never looked back. She is forthcoming about her own mistakes and how she navigated the many learning curves of a new business owner. She never comes across as a victim, but as a passionate supporter of independent stores and an unabashed enemy of the chains, the big box stores and the deep discounters.

She has wonderful stories about the hundreds of authors who have visited their store. I liked the one about Isabel Allende best, but she has had any and every author she admires including John Irving, Sherman Alexie, Kent Haruf, Margaret Atwood, E L Doctorow, Sara Paretsky and many, many more. Each chapter also has extensive reading lists.

Betsy and her booksellers actually read the books they carry. How many times have I gone to the "customer service" desk at Barnes and Noble to ask about a book and gotten a blank look while the "bookseller's" fingers fly to the computer? Those B&N people know more about coffee drinks than they do about books.

In The King's English I learned the truth about the chain stores, including what they are doing to the book publishing industry, to our local communities and what they are not doing to protect our First Amendment rights. This is knowledge that anyone who cares about books, literature, writing and free speech needs to know. I now know that it is not just a nice thing to have a friendly neighborhood bookstore with knowledgeable staff. It is an essential part of preserving our freedoms and having an aware and educated populace.

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