Bookstores

Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York City, the oldest gay bookshop in the US, is closing.

Bookstores are an infrastructure for the cultivation and dissemination of ideas. They work in ways that other infrastructures -- the internet, say, or libraries -- don't quite work. But they're also not as profitable as they are necessary. I've been thinking about this, in terms of Obama's plans to improve the US's infrastructure; some sort of bookstore subsidies seem in order. Though how that could be fairly implemented, I don't know.

I went into the Oscar Wilde Bookshop maybe twice in the decade or so I lived there, even back when I was a bookish gay teen who spent all his time in both halves of the Village and who thought reading up on queer stuff was urgent, and I doubt I ever purchased anything from them. It seemed to be, maybe not a relic, but certainly something irrelevant to my life (even as it was so clearly positioned to be part of my life), but still something I was glad was there, in some abstract sense. So I'm not that affected by losing this bookshop on a personal level -- yet, like with most bookshop closures, it still seems tragic.

Everyone has blogged about bookstores closing, and I don't have terribly much to add, I suppose. We all know that the disappearance of bookstores isn't quite made up by the abundance of the Internet. We all know publishing and bookselling, when done properly, isn't a sustainable business model, yet they seem to improve lives and to create opportunities and potentials in society that far surpass their costs -- much like, say, highways. But, as they say, everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Is there leadership on this issue, is there a plan, or do we have faith that the internet (or some other structure) will replace the bookstore network's various roles adequately? Or is this a structure that has lost its energy, which no amount of regret and wild gesticulation will restore? (I lean towards thinking, well, we should at least try to salvage something, perhaps something exciting will come out of it.)

(Thanks to LH for tipping me off to the news, via Facebook.)

2 comments:

  1. Lemon Hound said...

    one has the sense that the world has been given a thorough working over, economically, just wrung dry, or, perhaps to use a more thuggish metaphor, well-trounced and left by the road side.

    where all the fat that was skimmed off the top went, i have no idea. but we've survived this sort of winnowing before, and we shall again.

    it's sad, it's evolution. what's next, one might say? and turn that pining into creating the next micawbers, or oscar wilde, and so on.  

  2. gabe said...

    The sad thing to me is that I think people are really starting to come back to "local," and beginning to understand the value of supporting their neighbors instead of "the man." It just doesn't seem to be happening fast enough to save these institutions. Maybe this isn't the case everywhere, Portland is comparatively a more progressive city.

    Oddly enough this recognition is largely being fueled by the very thing threatening these stores so much, the internet and its hyper-communication abilities.

    Maybe we are lamenting the inevitable, and after the initial shock wears off we will move on and find other means for creative outlet. It will be sad for me though to tell my grandchildren about bookstores, as though they were a myth.  


 

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