it isn't just books themselves, or their authors, or their publishers. It's the environment in which a book is sold. "the bookstore". So, over the weekend I was at what has to be the extremes of bookselling. In Central PA, I went to a brand new used bookstore called 'The Wise Owl' and then about 12 hours later I stumbled into its polar opposite : The Bookspace in Philadelphia.
Each in their own way were totally fucked up. I know that "purists" will hissy-fit me for saying this but these experiences only reenforce my comfortable and established pattern of on-line book shopping. Not because I dislike the pursuit, I LOVE the pursuit!, but because I am not as much in love with the stupidity of people who say they love books and then treat them like pieces of furniture or like puppies in a post-apocalyptic film, unwanted and left for dead or left as food.
Take your pick : each of these places have no real interest in books as knowledge but perhaps maybe as objects, at least in one of them. The other is located in a gritty old brick factory in Fishtown section of Philadelphia which looks like someone dumped 50,000 books from a helicopter through the roof and wherever they landed is their "spot". Okay, It might have de-evolved into that but the place that I witnessed was a mass of dust covered items (which happen to be called books for the sake of conversation that are inconveniently in the way of a really cool party space. So, maybe the books are a cover. A dodge. A write-off.
I needed to wash my hands after leaving there. They were covered in soot. The building reeked of stale beer. There were bags and bags of trash all around the building. Nice touch for those brave individuals willing to risk the adventure of finding ANYTHING at the Bookspace. It's a great place to haggle or to learn the art of haggling since none of the books are priced and all transactions are arrived at through something like a Vulcan mind-meld.
My wife and I did find two books but - we promptly had to find something with a sink with running water and soap. Grungy is actually an understatement in this instance. It's a good thing we weren't wearing white clothes.
Juxtapose that with a bookstore that might have 300 books in it. A used bookstore that is starting out and has, maybe, 300 books in it. Of course, they are all overpriced since they have to pay the rent in this ill-conceived business model. But it looks like a book boutique. A place where someone can go and find a book for that third bedroom in their house, something in pink. I hope that they succeed but will not at all be surprised if they don't. You can't start a bookstore with so few books that the normal book scout is in and out of your shop in less than 5 minutes. You want them to linger. You want them to browse. If one were interested in boutique - like book accessories, they can find them in this place; but most serious book hounds are not coming into a new shop that is a USED BOOKSTORE and be interested in clutter - they are there for the books. What don't you get about that? They are there to BUY books, so it might be a good idea to have some! No, more than "some". It might be a good idea to have invested in a lot of books. Front-end your commitment by opening your store with floor to ceiling books instead of finely placing them around the room on beautiful (and completely useless) furniture soas to show off how they might "make" the room. Ok, right, I am out of here. I bought one overpriced book - but I don't do it twice.
I love the concept of bookstores - I am not a fan of e-books in the slightest but good LORD, anyone entertaining opening a bookstore ought to remember that it is a BOOK store. People will come (or not) based on what is in your store. Unless, you know, it's a front for the coolest meeting space in the city which can pretend to "deal with books" but only in the most minimal possible way!