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Because We Still Buy Books Here

29 September 2016

From Riverfront Times:

When Charles Dickens first arrived in America he reportedly asked to be taken to see a few prisons; ever the social reformer, he felt he would gain some insight into who we are by seeing how we treated and housed our criminals.

Me, I go to the book store.

More accurately, I go to several. St. Louis is less a city and more a sprawling connection of neighborhoods, each with its own concerns, gossip and squad goals. Our book stores are the limbic system of our Frankenstein body politic, capturing the mood and general emotional health of a particular neighborhood. You’ll overhear people talking about their fears (the coming election is a big one), the day-to-day stuff like dead car batteries, the Cardinals and the big issue of our time — what are we going to read next?

. . . .

In 2016 people have a plethora of outlets for book talk, book news and book buying, most of them online. But none of them compares to standing in a book store and talking with strangers about what they have in stock. When a customer asks where to find D.H. Lawrence and it opens a store-wide discussion about his best story, you know you’re in a great book shop; when everybody nominates a different story and then all involved — including the employee — file off to browse Lawrence’s back catalog, you know you’ve found your people. It’s an experience impossible to replicate via text, chat or online review.

That’s why social media plays such a small role in von Plonski’s professional life. “It’s not any more important now than it’s ever been,” she agrees. “I run Twitter and Facebook, and Gena (Brady, a full-timer) manages our Instagram account, which is mostly for pictures of Teddy.” Teddy is Gena’s dachshund, and he’s in-store several times a week. He has his own shelf of recommended books along with the other employees.

Link to the rest at Riverfront Times

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20 Comments to “Because We Still Buy Books Here”

  1. How very sad. It’s hard to believe that anybody is stupid enough to judge a neighbourhood by how much it likes the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but there you are.

    Moreover, in this fellow’s constipated worldview, the vast majority of people in St. Louis who do not hang out in bookshops must not be part of the ‘Frankenstein body politic’, since they are not connected to its ‘limbic system’. He should get out more.

    • Well, he’s limited in terms of just where he’s willing to go…

      … a best-seller list based on all member stores’ sales. (They’re all, you have perhaps noticed, located in interesting and well-defined neighborhoods. Imagine that.)

      Elitist much?

    • I had to look up ‘limbic system’ – only to discover
      a) it’s not in the first two paper dictionaries I checked (thank goodness for wiki), and
      b) the term is out of date. Says something about the article, imho.

      • A minority of neurologists argue that the term ought to be out of date. However, anatomical terminology does not change on their say-so.

        Anyway, there are plenty of expressions floating around the English language based on obsolete clinical terms. Have you ever felt melancholy? Despite the etymology of the word, it isn’t because an excess of black bile is getting you down.

    • He should have gone to an actual prison, because Dickens is correct. But you can’t get a good latte there, and they just don’t have the right sort of people.

  2. “When a customer asks where to find D.H. Lawrence and it opens a store-wide discussion about his best story, you know you’re in a great book shop; when everybody nominates a different story and then all involved — including the employee — file off to browse Lawrence’s back catalog, you know you’ve found your people.”

    Yeah, right. Happens every day.

    • If I asked where to find D.H. Lawrence, I think I’d be happiest if someone told me where to find D.H. Lawrence.

    • If I want to find D.H. Lawrence’s works, I type his name into the search bar on the Amazon website. No human interaction needed (which this introvert appreciates).

    • In his defense:

      It happens regularly at comic book shops all over the country right after a new superhero movie releases.

      Especially if the newly-interested show up on a wednesday afternoon asking about good SUPERMAN, BATMAN, WONDER WOMAN, Avengers stories. It can get pretty intense… 😉

      • Comic book shops? Oh, yeah, high intellectual lit, and the customers are soooooo erudite and well educated elites.

        Why, I bet most of them can read manga in the original Japanese!

        …Or the Sanskrit translations. 🙂

        • Not sure about Sanskrit but the japanese, yes.
          Manga and anime drives a lot of spirited engagement and an increasing number of readers are unwilling to rely on subtitles or translations to experience the narrative as intended, so they are learning japanese to get there.

          Culture is an ever-evolving thing and the influences behind change can come from all sorts of places. Tech is the most common one these days but hardly the only one.

          One of the multiple problems facing the OP, given his stated views, is precisely that culture and literature is evolving away from his cozy little world of 20th century big city “culture”.

          It turns out that is an aspect of this week’s KKR column about lost worlds.

          Specifically:

          “Those thoughts, still swirling in my head, came to fruition the other day, as I realized we’re losing a world in publishing. The traditional rules that governed our industry since the late 19th century are going away. Some people still play by those rules, but for the most part, we’re in such a new environment that it’s as if the Industrial Revolution happened and a handful of us haven’t yet discovered coal.

          There’s a weird sadness with losing a world, even if that world isn’t particularly beneficial. I’m not sure I understood nostalgia until I hit my 40s, but when I did, I realized I wasn’t longing for the world that was. I was longing for the understandable nature of the world—the idea that the rules I learned were fixed, and that I could make my way through and around them because I had mastered them.”

          http://kriswrites.com/2016/09/28/business-musings-idle-thoughts/

          The world is moving on, to new interests, new concerns, new narrative forms, new business models, even (if Elon Musk success in becoming the MAN WHO SOLD MARS) other worlds.

          It’s the 21st century out there and not just on the calendar.

  3. In 2016 people have a plethora of outlets for book talk, book news and book buying, most of them online. But none of them compares to standing in a book store and talking with strangers about what they have in stock.

    God Bless Amazon, for we can buy books without talking to some guy in old Birkenstocks.

  4. If he’s this excited about conversation in bookstores, he’s going to be thrilled when he gets around to bars.

    Plus “plethora” just never sounds quite right to me…

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