Over at the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, Macy Halford has a post entitled “Should We Fight to Save Indie Bookstores?” The basis for her post is the petition to Save St. Mark’s Bookshop that’s going round the Internets and is focused on the difficult the store is having paying market rent in the Lower East Side.
This has always been a huge issue—especially in Manhattan—and has helped shutter the doors of many an awesome bookstore. (Lenox Hill, Coliseum, Books & Co., list goes on.) I’ve been reading a lot about the history of independent bookselling (I’m teaching the very informative and interesting Reluctant Capitalists by Laura Miller in my “Intro to Literary Publishing” class this fall), and as a result could go on and on about this and related issues . . . But I’ll put that off for a rainy (or slighly less busy) day.
Anyway, here’s part of Halford’s explanation for why indie bookstores are important to keep around:
I was explaining all this over e-mail to a colleague, who replied, “I know bookstores are supposed to be good things, but we don’t have video stores anymore, and maybe we need to get used to the new order instead of lamenting the old.” This is what I’d say to his point: it totally sucks that there are no more video stores. I spent long nights hanging out at Kim’s in college, deliberating for hours over which random German film from the nineteen-seventies to take home with me. I actually watched stuff like that all the way through then, maybe since I’d spent so much time and energy looking for it. I even miss Blockbuster: when I was a kid, the Friday-night trip to the video store to pick out a movie was the most exciting event of the week. How I watch a video now is: I browse on Netflix for a while, start watching something, get about five minutes in, wonder if I’ve made the right decision, and start the process over. It’s ridiculous, and yet I can’t…stop…clicking…
My point is that I wish we had been able to save the video store. I know the young citizens of the new order don’t miss it, but kids don’t miss anything: they’re kids. And since we haven’t entirely killed the bookstore yet, I would like us not to. Going into bookstores to browse, to attend readings, to interact with the staff, to see the selection they’ve curated—all these things excite me and entice me to read. If my book-buying experience becomes simply me sitting alone on the couch click, click, clicking, I don’t know what I’ll become (I’ll probably forget I’m looking for books and jump over to Netflix).
Still, my colleague has a point: chaos and destruction are a part of life, and their consequences, impossible to foretell, are not always negative.
Yeah, and on the flip-side, economic, capitalist progress is a part of life, and the consequences of that haven’t always been positive.
Putting aside the occasional frustrations indie bookstores present to me as a publisher of “difficult” books (based on 13 years of working at or with indie stores, I’ve come to believe that 98% of America consists of locations where readers “don’t buy your sort of books”), I’ve come to believe that good bookstores are one of the best things on the planet. It’s been a while since I lived in a town with a solid indie store, and man, do I miss it. Letting my book nerd flag fly here, but there’s something life-affirming about visiting a good bookstore and interacting with other people who really love books and talking about books. There aren’t a lot of places for that sort of interaction in our society (especially not in Rochester, NY—sorry), and it is a great counterweight to the pressure of working hard (and constantly) to make just enough money to be able to make it to the end . . .
So, yeah. Indie bookstores are rad. And I too hope St. Mark’s survives.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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