Saturday, January 1, 2011

Discount Dreams (or "Why This Blog Exists")

One of my favorite places to shop is the dollar store. If your mental image of dollar stores is one of narrow, dingy aisles blocked by ample posteriors in double-knit slacks, buzzy fluorescent lights, and despair, you need to come check out the one by my house – it’s really nice, and the assortment of merchandise is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of off-brand foods, cheap toys, tacky kitsch decorations, and cleaning products (often with labels in French or Spanish).  My favorite area of the store, however, is down the third aisle from the right, across from the mailing supplies and next to the stickers.

That’s where you’ll find the books.

And I’m not talking about schlocky romance paperbacks or things like Chicken Soup for the Soul, either, although both of those things can be found at the dollar store. I’m talking about hardcover books of every genre imaginable. Self-help books. Political screeds. Science-fiction novels. Memoirs. Thrillers. Chick-lit. Even genuine literature.

For a buck apiece.

The first time I happened upon the books at my local dollar store, I didn’t give it much thought. I grabbed a couple of books that looked interesting and moved on to the kitchen utensils (by the way, my dollar store also has an amazing assortment of kitchen utensils. Check ’em out – they’re on the left wall). I figured, “Hey, even if these books are awful, so what? I’m only out a dollar on each one. A newspaper would cost that much.” And they weren’t awful, and I started buying more. It got to the point that whenever I went to the dollar store, I went to the books first, and there were usually several that hadn’t been there the last time. I often just bought an armload of whatever new ones they had, except the ones that I knew immediately I wouldn’t be interested in (sports memoirs, for example). They started to pile up.

A normal person would probably look at the pile of 10-plus books and think, “Gee, I should hold off on buying more until I’ve read these.” I am, as my wife would tell you, not a normal person. The stack continued to grow. Before long, I had to split it into two stacks, then three, to avoid a book-a-lanche. Part of it was, I’m sure, nothing more than avaricious book-lust – They’re books! CHEAP books! However, there was something else in play as well, something that perhaps only a writer would think of.

See, it’s monumentally hard to write a book, and even harder to get one published. To make the attempt requires a willingness to dream big and ignore the odds. Each of these books represented someone’s dream – and, moreover, a dream come true, because some publisher picked it out of the slush pile and gave it form. I imagined how excited the author must have felt holding a copy of his or her book, the same book I was now holding in the dollar store, across from the mailing supplies and next to the stickers.

I was buying dreams at a deep discount.

It felt like I was doing more than just scoring some extraordinarily cheap reading material. I was giving these poor remaindered dreams a second chance to live – and how could I leave any of them behind? Finally the day came when I counted my book stash out of idle curiosity and discovered that I had more than fifty of them in the queue. Jeez, I thought, I could read one of these every week for a year and not get through all of them. And then I raised my eyebrows and thought, Why not actually do that?

And that thought led directly to this blog. For an annual budget of fifty dollars, plus tax, I intend to read and review a book a week, not counting Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks. I plan to post the weekly reviews every Saturday; I may also post other entries on other days as well. I hope it’ll be fun for the readers (if I get any) as well as for me!


  1. Good Idea.
    I've marked this into my favorites tabs; it'll be interesting to see what you come up with.

    One that I bought at my own 99-cent store: Uglies. Now I want to read the two sequels, but haven't seen them.

  2. This is a really cool idea. I'm looking forward to reading your reviews. My town doesn't even have a dollar store. I'm not sure where the closest one is. I've noticed books at the ones I have been in but they tended to be the sports memoirs, religious subjects, and Mad-Libs (why all the Mad-Libs?). I'll keep my eyes out for a new dollar store, with books.

  3. Great idea! Love it. I am a dollar store book seeker as well. Maybe you can invite some of us who also do this to do guest posts for you? :)

  4. Lisa -- you know, now that I think about it, my book budget is $50 for the year, but there are 52 weeks. Hmmmmmmm...

  5. Very cool. I found your blog from the Straight Dope, and I'm looking forward to reading your book reviews.

  6. I think this is a great idea for a blog. But what will you do if one of your 99c steals is just too terrible to finish? They may be dreams, but some of them may be VERY BAD dreams!

  7. Antijen: True, it's safe to assume that some of these books landed in the dollar store for a very good reason.

    Normally I follow something I call "the 50-page test"; if a book isn't doing anything for me by page 50, I'll lay it aside, but I always give it that first 50-page chance to hook me.

    For the purposes of this blog, though, I plan to read every book all the way to the end, no matter how much it burns.