Friday, February 27, 2009

Annals of Booking 2-Outrageous Tales

Reminiscing about the many closed bookshops(that's not like a maison close)-I recall this story about Endicott Books, the grande dame of West Side carriage trade shops on Columbus between 80 th and 81st. This store had beautiful carpeting, 4 0r 5 steps up to sections in well-lit corners with what seemed to be - mahogany wood tables and bookcases. And, more notably a rather good selection of trade fiction and non-fiction, including well-chosen volumes of high quality, and an excellent collection of literary mags(more about that later and the loss of the great corner mag shop on Sixth ave and 11th street)
Anyway, when we first moved our main residence to Connecticut, and the kids were pre-teen, we would always come in the City once on the weekend and I would make quick runs to Endicott, Books & Co and St Marks while the troupe sat double-parked in the car, unless we could get a space and they piled in as well.
I was a pretty big customer of Endicott-and had been allowed bathroom privileges , in the small interior room on the left side of the main floor. Standing in line with 5 books which I had just purchased I told the clerk that I needed to use the bathroom - He replied in a skittish voice that it wasn't allowed.When I explained to him that the manager, his ostensible superior had allowed me to use the facilities on several occasions and reminded him,of the obscene(accordingto my spouse) volume of purchases I made in the last few years, he acknowledged all that.But then stated that the manager should not have allowed me- Was there some kind of store power play going on here - did I miss the rim the last time- hardly likely- I looked him down, knowing that the double-parked trio of my nuclear family would be furious if I spent much more time here--

I contemplated the alternatives and offered up this with a determined look on my face that did not exclude the obvious intestinal distress I was suffering
Can you tell me the corner of the store that is least frequented by customers??

He looked back in sheer disgust, reached for the key and rudely thrust it in my palm-----Well, just this time he mumbled with a pained expression that looked like he had just lost out on an inheritance at a reading of the will of a distant relative...

I went about my business but counted a great moral victory- such are the little triumphs of life...

Annals of Booking in New 1

We've all heard the sad tales about the decline in independent bookstores in New York, including a study summarized in the now defunct New York Sun about how NY State ranked I believe 50th in per capita bookstores per thousand population, a figure attributable not to the growth of chain stores or the net(since that would apply in all 50 states) but primarily to the huge increases in real estate and rental prices in the place of greatest population density-our own beloved Manahatta-

In Andre's Schiffrin's brilliant book, The Business of Books, published 8 years ago he details in a publishing industry chart from the mid-nineties the explosive (implosive?) decline in big city bookselling before then.
With the closing in the last couple of years of legendary stores like Coliseum(of west 57th and 42 nd st fame) and the immortal Gotham Book Mart, there are a mere handful of great independents left. Compare this to London, where I was over the winter holidays -There are well over a hundred independent shops and many terrific ones, even with high rentals, but many are far from the center. Will there more of an upsurge in the boroughs- There are a few good shops in Brooklyn, almost nil in Queens.

The most interesting restaurants (ethnically at least) are now in those boroughs. Will bookshops be able to migrate successfully- There's always hope in a city which remarkably regenerates itself through every crisis.

But if there's any money left over from the economic stimulus, it would be a good idea to sponsor public trusts for independent bookselling-It's that kind of knowledge transmission- even with the ubiquitous but never sufficient Kindle, that helps keep the ideals of civilization more fully alive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stumbling Along-Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

This Prix Goncourt winning novel, written in French by American expat Littell, who lives in Barcelona , arrives on our shores next week already battered by the usual coterie of critics-quoting Adorno on the impossibity of making art out of the holocaust and complaining that the kinky sexual preferences of the narrator(including his incestuous wishes) make him a poor candidate for an everyman is capable of horror theory of genocide.

Better that people should read the 970 page tome before leaping to conclusions.Once you've read Pynchon, Foster Wallace and the like, it's a relatively easy task. Then the debate can start. It's just too easy to put a book down without getting down to actually traversing all its pages.And I harbor a healthy suspicion that few critics made it through to the end.