In San Diego, there is a fun looking bar with a big sign with two arrows. One arrow points towards the opposite side of the street and reads “Beach”. The other arrow points back towards the bar and reads “Beer”. You gotta love the simplicity and directness of the American people. I will attempt to apply that philosophy to used and antiquarian bookstores.
Long before I became a rare bookseller, in every corner I visited, I hunted out the local independent bookstore. Inside, whether it be organized or a dumpster fire, I found a temporary place to wallow. My “beach”. Or maybe it was my “beer”. Whichever.
For many used bookstores, the power wall has been FICTION. And readers, it was always the most crowded area. If there were 20 people in the store, 15 were scouting in Fiction. So we climbed over one another, awkwardly turning our bodies just to be frustrated that the cool book just out of reach was another unread copy of “McTeague” (a great read, nonetheless).
Increasingly, however, general Fiction is being ghettoized; forced to exist in a dead end aisle only wide enough for two narrow shouldered lit majors to pass side by side on their way to extinction. GENRE Fiction, that place used in the past to lure the lonely virgins, is now creeping steadily forward and into the light.
The kooky footpath of some used bookstores and the possibility of a great find is the reason to visit brick and mortar. The funky layouts and the gravitational expectations are all part of the proof that the Golden Ratio is sometimes far too big to see all at once and the internet should just be part of the equation. At one bookstore, a very fine and fun one, I might add, I was assured that there was “order to it all”. And he was right. In about 125 square feet, there was a Fiction power wall, Genre in another section, Art History, Children’s and Cooking and Gardening, etc. Everything you would find in a much larger bookstore — only from floor to ceiling. Any false move, and there would have been a Buster Keaton moment had not my degree and body type be heading towards extinction.
After the book hunting, I was back at the “beach”, having had my “beer”. After all, I was in Southern California.
And, I am not a monster.