It’s taken me a while to get to this post about America’s so-called national pastime, which no one is playing right now, because there’s a blizzard in New York City  (I hope it stops and melts and that airplane traffic normalizes, because we’re going there next week).   Bob Herbert‘s October 17 column in the New York Times really got to me, given its timing relative to the book price wars conducted by Target, Walmart, and Costco, among other purveyors of fine literature.  Herbert strikes me, in general, as a voice of conscience, decrying ills and inequities in this country and elsewhere, recently to the point of sharply criticizing those that he’d hoped President Obama would fix or try to alleviate–and isn’t.

The column I’m citing, timed during the baseball championship games leading to the World Series, focused on the the fancy new baseball stadiums in New York, including the Mets’ new home named for its corporate sponsor, Citigroup, of federal rescue funds fame.  Herbert makes the point that, even for many families not desperately hurt by recession and unemployment, a jaunt to these new palaces of sport is an expense worthy of considerable thought.  Between tickets and concessions, baseball has priced itself out of the ballpark.  Herbert, recalling his childhood when “even the scalpers’ tickets were affordable,”  regrets that today’s youngsters of modest means have no access to America’s pastime, and people sleep on the street while one magnificent, luxury box-lined field after another opens.

This commentary juxtaposed with the news of the book price wars made me think that, while the price of one pastime has skyrocketed, the price of another is up for grabs.  My first take: this devalues reading.  But a closer look at the wars that ensued in advance of this holiday shopping season revealed that the wars really centered on big name best sellers–the likes of Dan Brown and, G-d help me, Sarah Palin–that Wal-Mart and Target pegged as discountable “loss leader” they could sell in quantity as their shoppers rampaged through the stores toward the bigger-ticket items on their lists.

Independent booksellers professed to be nonplussed by this move; after all, they’ve been under relative siege for years (thanks to Amazon, B&N, Borders, et. al.), and the big-box stores were unlikely to cater to their more literary- and service-minded clientele. Here in San Francisco some local bookstores weren’t even stocking Going Rogue.  So, if they weren’t worried, why should I?  I just find it hard to view books–any books–as a loss leader commodities.

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