My wife and I spent part of the weekend in Washington, D.C. before we had to cut our trip short owing to a severe cold that I caught on Friday. Any trip to Washington must include a stop at one of the major bookstore chains. Here in Charlottesville we have a Barnes and Noble, but given that this is a university town you would assume that this particular branch would have a deep selection of books in most subject areas. That is not the case at all. The Civil War section is absolutely pathetic as are most other areas of history. I enjoy bookstores, especially the chance to spend some time browsing through different titles. You can find anything on Amazon, but there is still something to being able to hold a book and flip through its pages.
Our first stop was the B&N on M Street in Georgetown. I thought they would have a much better selection compared with C-Ville; too my dismay the selection was even worse. In fact their entire U.S. History selection was a disappointment and I was able to walk through it in less than 5 minutes. That night we walked over the Borders on L and 17th Street after dinner. The difference is night and day. I tend to read university press books so it was nice to see a selection of recent titles from most of the presses. I found and purchased Brian Dirck’s new edited collection Lincoln Emancipated: The President and the Politics of Race (Northern Illinois University Press, 2007). [I recently heard Philip S. Paludan give a talk at the Univeristy of Virginia where he touched on the topic of his contribution to the collection.] In short, the selection is much deeper. Better yet they divide U.S. History into sections, including Colonial/Revolution, Civil War, Nineteenth Century and Modern History. I don’t know how you explain the difference in selection. Perhaps buyers are more focused on a given area and have the opportunity to ensure that each section is well stocked. Whatever the case I miss not having this selection in my hometown.
I should come clean and say that I’ve known about this difference in selection for quite some time. Back in the mid-1990s I worked for a Borders store in Rockville, Maryland. It’s a large store and the selection is excellent. At the time I managed the magazine section so I was not involved with the stocking or ordering of books. It was a great place to work at the time, and it was here where I fell in love with Civil War history. I ran a Civil War book club that met once a month and typically included the historian whose book we were discussing Guests included Craig Symonds and Kevin C. Ruffner. I also organized a one-day Civil War book signing that included Brian Pohanka, James Kegel, Ed Fischel, William Matter, Greg Clemmer, Craig Symonds and others. It was a lot of fun.