Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Those Were the Days, My Friends

Yesterday, I attempted to order books from a local shop. I was after classics, a few choice Edith Wharton novels, a couple of fat novels by the beloved Dickens. You know, Charles.

Well, it took much Dicken-around before I was understood by the befudddled bookseller on the other end of the line.

"Warton? How do you spell that? Does he write novels?"

"Dickin, what is the last name? Is it a novel?"

"You mean you work in a bookstore and you're not familiar with Edith

Wharton, Charles Dickens?"

"I'm the manager."

"Read a book!" (One sometimes forgets one's manners.)

Remember the days, my friends, we thought they would never end. When booksellers loved--and knew--books? I spent my childhood, teen, and early adult years in New York City and frequented many bookshops, both large and indie. St. Mark's, Spring Street, Three Lives, Border's, B&N, the Strand....and I fondly recall the experience of shopping for books and having a passionate bookseller recommend great titles for me, introducing me to books and authors I might come to love. They knew the classics, they knew what was new.

I miss the passionate bookseller who is not selling bubblegum...or widgets, but books.

I know they still exist. I will find them out.

I miss the booktalk.


Leo said...

I think the market is saturated with books. As a result, it is hard for any self-respecting bookseller to keep up with all the content out there, or make choices as to which book will sell better than the others. Since the dawn of the Creative Writing program back in the 1930's, the number of authors (and would-be authors) out there flogging content has grown almost exponentially, as has the choice available to readers.

It has two perverse effects - it makes the bookseller not much more kowledgable than a well-read individual and forces the reader to explore his or her tastes by acquiring content online, through Amazon or Chapters.Indigo.

I don't think we can go backward to the days of a few good books and knowledgable booksellers. Those days are over. The question is, how do we create communities of interest and exchanges of information in this Internet-powered world we live in? Once we all figure that out, then acquiring the content we want, accompanied with literate and knowledgable reviews, should follow.

BTW, your post on your hiking adventure is well done. I think you ought to include that episode in a future book. It's a good mix of humour and pain.

Tobes said...

Points well taken, Leo.

But I believe a well-educated individual--especially one who is selling books--would have read some Charles Dickens and some Edith Wharton, as part of a good education.

One would hope a bookseller might have heard of these masters, at the very least.

Chez Ami said...

I agree with what Tobes says.

Can't we expect a minimum of literacy from our booksellers?

To not be familiar with Charles Dickens or Edith Wharton is shocking to me, disturbing.

carlita said...

Leo has a point, but...let us celebrate bookstores with passionate and knowledgable booksellers: The marvelous Macondo, with books in Spanish and English, still going strong at 221 14th Street in NYC; where Jorge introduced me to Isabel Allende-- before anyone even knew her name--and to numerous Puerto Rican writers; the late, great Hungry Mind (later The Ruminator) in my city of St. Paul. MN, with its own literary review. Maybe I'm a romantic, but I like to think there will always be a few such bookstores--just like there will always be baseball.