Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Inside a Bog It's Too Dark to Read, Dept.

Well, it's past Memorial Day, and your sobsister can take a three-month-long hiatus from chiding those who would insist on wearing white before the last Monday in May or after the first in September, and turn, instead, to one of my favorite year-round activities: pointing out Choc City's flaws.

Today's topic: Washington:bookstores::Tea Party:intellectualism. That is, something one discards, either through hostility or neglect.

Now, your sobsister, as you may recall, has lived here longer than anyone should be forced to do. As a consequence, I have Context for my critique. When I first came here, sure, there weren't "little plate" restaurants or wine bars or hookah lounges on every corner. What were here, however, were independent bookstores. On the way home today, I compiled a list, right off the top of my widdel head, of those fallen by the wayside. Here's 10 of them with their specialty in parens:

1. Lambda Rising (gay)
2. Lammas (feminism/lesbian)
3. Mystery Books (mystery)
4. Moonstone (sci-fi)
5. Travel Bookstore (travel)
6. Revolution Books (politics)
7. Common Concerns (politics)
8. Franz Bader (art)
9. Chapters (general)
10. Olsson's Books and Records (general).

Now, some of you might be saying, "Well, sobsister, businesses come and go every week, everywhere." And I would first look askance at you for your familiarity, then riposte with the fact that none of the above has been replaced. And, so, despite being ranked as the "second most literate city in the country" (behind the The Emerald City. You know, Seatown? A/k/a "Jet City"? C'mon, you're not even trying! Okay, here's a giveaway: "Gateway to Alaska"), Choc City has almost no independent bookstores. Fact. Even Politics and Prose, the highest-profile indy bookstore in the city, is being sold, according to today's news.

So, yeah. Either this amazingly literate audience is being fully served by Borders and B&N, which, if you've ever been to the Borders or B&N here, means that people are reading an awful lot of Vince Flynn, Chelsea Handler and whoever writes those wretched "street" novels with titles like Bitchez, Divaz and Afrikan Queenz and Oh No You DIN'T! that are marketed as "hip-hop lit" and eschew standard grammar and orthography as Mr. Charlie's Snares, or they're making Amazon richer than Croesus' ex-wife, who talked him out of the pre-nup.

I'm sure this all fits into some greater national trend regarding brick-and-mortar retail, its eclipse by online vendors, the decline of the paper book, blah blah. Bottom line: there's one bookstore your sobsister patronizes--a used book store, as it happens--partly because I love used book stores, but primarily and most annoyingly because it's my only real choice if I want to thumb through a book before buying it, if I want to be surprised by the serendipity that only winds along aisles and up shelves, if I want the pleasure of the impulsive purchase and the immediate gratification. My accompanying screed on the dearth of record stores in this town will have to wait for another day.

So, those of you out there who do enjoy an embarrassment of bookstores, I envy you. Few pleasures more satisfying than a cool, large series of rooms filled with well-chosen books. Even if I never read more than a pinch of them. That they exist is a great thing. And that they survive, three thousand years ago and today, in manuscript or on glossy paper. The physicality of bound paper, the fact that the tactile pleasure is physicalizing the emotional and intellectual excitement, curiosity, anticipation it will make me feel is pleasurable to me in a way that few other objects can match.

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