Adventures in Living: Purchasing Under the Tamarined Tree


I went to Barnes & Noble to order Rosaliene Bacchus’ novel, Under the Tamarind Tree, ( but it was a humiliating and infuriating experience.  I made a special trip to B&N to order that book.  On walking in, I congratulated myself on my “pull through economics” philosophy.  As opposed to “trickle down economics,” “pull through” means using brick-and-mortar stores to assist awareness and distribution of desirable products.

I had $23 in cash plus change and wanted coffee so figured I could just barely afford the book at $16.95.  I was shocked to see a $4.99 shipping charge on the bill.  The clerk who processed the order said Barnes & Noble has recently instituted a shipping charge even on books that come to the store.  I began to wonder what is the advantage of a brick-and-mortar store if I have to pay shipping anyway?  So I went to the café to pay for the book and to get coffee.  But sales tax—which hadn’t been listed on the receipt—put me over the top.  There was a long line before and behind me.  I was ready to defer the book purchase until I had more money, but up speaks a curly-headed young guy from two people back in the line to ask how much I was short.  “Three dollars,” says the cashier.  He hands her the money, thereby rescuing B&N’s sale.  I knew he thought he was doing me a favor, and I appreciated it, but I felt trapped in a situation I would have handled quite differently on my own.  I gave the guy my $1.25 in quarters, and he got the $0.54 change, so his total investment came to about $1.25.  I thanked him and learned he is beginning to write a novel himself, a futuristic fantasy novel dealing with monotheism vs. polytheism.

Later, I realized I could have written a check, but I was too flummoxed to think of that.  There was no urgency to buy the book.  I could have held on to the receipt and paid next week.  I was actually thinking of by-passing B&N entirely and looking on Amazon for it, so annoyed I was with the shipping charge.  But there’s more to it than this, because I resent buying anything these days.  Books are falling off my bookshelves.  I’ve also virtually stopped reading novels and want to read this only because Rosaliene wrote it and Sha’Tara ( raved over it

I stewed about this, and about this home delivery trend, off and on, all day.  I noted how stressful the hidden costs were.  A $16.95 book should not cost $23.48 at the cash register.  As I sat the next morning finishing the B&N coffee (in my reusable cup), I contemplated the emotional valence of this superficially insignificant experience.

Philosophically, I support brick-and-mortar.   The trend in commerce is to promote home delivery, ultimately isolating people even more.  At Kroger the other day, I spoke with an employee who was gathering groceries for home-delivery shoppers.  I asked if he tried to find the best vegetables and he said yes.  He is not allowed to choose items on sale, though.

I appreciate being able to see and touch what I’m buying, to squeeze my own tomatoes, and to have the social experience of meeting people on casual terms in public or commercial places.  Barnes & Noble is one of the very few places with easy parking that I can go to sit with coffee, air-conditioning, good light, and a plethora of interesting and stimulating reading material, and frankly, people like the guy who helped pay for my book and coffee.

The next day, I went to B&N and apologized to one of the café employees for the commotion I caused, but I also presented my case for resuming free shipping to the store.  I said that nice guy behind me in line saved B&N a sale.  I had a large audience, yet again, not intentionally.  I said she should tell her bosses the shipping charge is bad for business, that enhanced traffic into the store offsets the cost of shipping to the store.  When people come in to pick up their orders, they might buy other things, like coffee, at least, whereas home delivery prevents the browser from finding other things to buy.  In fact, I said, I might just write corporate B&N myself.

Jenique told me she believed they were sending the book to my house.  I went into a long (sort of, being aware of customers waiting) tirade about how I hate home delivery because FedEx and UPS drive all over my lawn, and why do we have stores if they don’t store things?

As an advocate of print media, I want books to flourish.  This trend to electronics may be here to stay, but I doubt it will fully supplant hard copy publishing, just as digital currency cannot replace tangible means of exchange, except in the ethereal realms of macroeconomic imagination.

Anyway, I decided I do feel some loyalty to B&N, because the staff is friendly, and coffee prices haven’t yet gone up.  I’d checked Amazon for Under the Tamarind Tree and found no advantage in buying it on-line, so the book is becoming famous locally for its contribution to my latest “pull through economics” soapbox.

Apparently Walmart is initiating drone delivery in Virginia, fueling my fears regarding the implications of commercial drones.  Must my birds now compete with drones for airspace?  How much noise will drones make in delivering pizza to neighbors?  They reputedly can go up to 70 mph.  Worse, will the USPS start using drones to deliver junk mail to my front lawn?

I hope I die before that future arrives.  I may need to get a a gun.  I can go on a shooting spree, with drones and excessive traffic turn signals for targets.

It became part of my rant to Barbara and Ed as we walked back through the mall after the coffee klatch.  Ed said Walmart is not only delivering groceries, but it will send robots into your house and put the food in your refrigerator.  Barbara expressed doubt that I will be able to avoid the drone trend but did agree there are fewer and fewer places where people can meet and interact informally.  Brick-and-mortar stores like B&N do serve a valuable but unappreciated social function.

So said I to Ned, a B&N customer service employee. I spoke with on the way out.  I wanted to make sure the book was coming to the store, even though Jenique said she would take care of it.  Yes, he said.  He explained that the book is being published on demand by a self-publishing operation that requires pre-payment of book and delivery charges, and that B&N makes no money on the deal.  I explained my “pull through economics” philosophy, how important it is to sustain brick-and-mortar stores, how loyal I am to B&N–even though it is a corporate monster– largely because of the friendly and helpful employees.  I left him all smiles.

Footnote:  The book was well worth the trouble.  It was so gripping that I read it in two sittings:  a heart-warming story about life and culture in British Guiana in the 1950s and 1960s, as it was undergoing the transition to become Guyana, independent of British rule.

11 thoughts on “Adventures in Living: Purchasing Under the Tamarined Tree

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Katharine, I’m sorry that you had to face so much difficulty when purchasing my book at your local B&N store. Shipping does increase the cost of a book, though I can’t understand why you would have to pay for shipping when you’re buying the book in-store. I’m so glad to hear that the trouble was worth it 🙂 Here’s hoping that your incident with the B&N cashier generated some interest in my novel.

    As the author, I will receive a small book royalty on B&N purchases. I get the best return for purchases made directly at my store at As I’m learning, the book distribution network is a costly system. To really make money in this business, the author has to sell thousands of copies of his/her book.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Thanks for the info. The publishing/distribution industry has become enormously complex, and every little bit of information helps (and highlights the “pull through economics” process). I’ve been carrying the book around and want to show it to the B&N people who helped me. I can’t promise thousands of sales, though.

      Have you liked working with Lulu? Do they use UPS, USPS, FedEx, or some other shipper?

      I guess it’s a new policy with B&N to pass on shipping charges. Maybe they are hurting financially. (Who isn’t?) Maybe my protests will make a difference. I told the staff I posted a blog about it.

  2. m.caimbeul

    Great post. A perfect description of today’s buying experience whether in store or online. It’s become an unpleasant experience spending money. A year ago we went to buy a Jeep and at several dealerships we were told the price was $1,000 more because we were paying cash.

      1. m.caimbeul

        Rip off car dealerships do that because their not going to receive the loan commission they would receive from a finance company. Needless to say we bought our Jeep elsewhere.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Too bad they can get away with that. Namby pamby Americans who fall for those tricks make it much harder for the rest of us.

        On a different but related area, the decline in quality products and food, as well as the decline in overall competence seems to be a trend. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems Americans are increasingly willing to settle for less, yet pay more for it.

  3. stuartbramhall

    I have the sense that print-on-demand is typical of other gig economy businesses. The companies that run POD services make immense profits by exploiting authors and bookstores alike.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Maybe so, but I remind myself we are in a transitional age. A local podiatrist, whose name I can’t think of right now, started that way bur then sold his book himself out of the trunk of his car. It became a best seller then was purchased by a major publishing house.

      The major publishing houses of old have become international conglomerates, too. Is there any way to avoid being exploited these days?

    2. katharineotto Post author

      I’ve been thinking about your comment. One of the reasons I wanted to describe the scenario is that publishing is changing so much and so fast that authors and would-be authors need to know what’s available. I hope people like me can help bring transparency to the process so that the reputable operations will become known by word-of-mouth.

      There’s potentially a great future for self-publishing, but it takes grass-roots communications to keep the industry as honest as possible. Or so I believe.

  4. thetruthaboutmentalhealth

    Oh that’s super frustrating having to pay shipping when buying in store. I would call the complaints line and make an official complaint. I did this once with a bread company (they had deceptive wording on their packaging which could easily trick consumers) and it actually worked, they changed the packaging. Maybe many others made the same complaint… it’s so frustrating but I think complaints can make a difference. Rosaline’s book looks good.. I’m inspired to read it (I follow her blog too, think that’s how I found yours or vice versa can’t remember now)… do you like libraries? My local recently got rid of borrowing fines which is amazing. I might see if Roseline’s book is there.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      I would have so many complaints that I could make a career out of calling “foul” every time a mega-corporation pulls a stunt like this. They are all hurting much more than they admit. Rosaliene’s book is good, and I should write a real review, but I’m not writing much, lately. “Deepening the yin” in my own life, better to explain the concept in a blog. Reading and listening with intent to understand, I think, deepens yin, and writing and speaking are yang. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and spending time outdoors with the chickens. working in the yard.


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