Tamas Dobozy wrote a guest blog post at 49th Shelf today, expounding the virtues of the independent bookstore: "My favourite bookstores... were (or are) all places of secrets barely concealed, where I spent hours thumbing through the shelves amazed by what was out there, the life-affirming sense that no matter how many years I spent there would still always be something interesting to read, another novel or short story collection or book of poems I had to get to." To him, the interesting part was the books that weren't there, the books that didn't make the cut when it came to allocating shelf space. "What they do have room for, just barely, is the distillation of a certain taste in reading, a canon of novels and poems and plays and essays peculiar to whoever runs the store, whatever he or she thinks is a worthwhile continuum of titles and authors and subjects."
This isn't the same at big bookstores. They have much more room for many more titles, or, at least, many more copies of the big titles. And if they have a backlist, it's because there's a new book out by the same author; but the authors that inspired the writer du jour are nowhere to be found. He also takes a jab at big bookstores by singling out the poor university student making minimum wage trying to get through school by working 12 hours a week at a bookstore: "Whenever I asked one of the clerks or proprietors about something they never looked it up in a computer database but drew it from memory, cross-referencing writers as they took me around the store pulling this or that off the shelves." It is indeed a rare find these days if a bookstore clerk can get you those connections, finding those authors that even you haven't heard of yet. However, that's just not practical.
A favourite bookstore of mine in Ottawa had to close its doors earlier this year because the rent was just too steep. My experience was similar to Dobozy's in this store, as I would scour the fiction titles from Aravind to Zola just to see what kind of path it took me on; and it was different every time; as Dobozy explains, "it was less about the books than the experience of someone else’s mind moving through its personal library, making connections I’d never made before, drawing out aspects of writing and reading I’d never considered, educating me less about a reading list than on ways of sustaining and refining literary taste."
Read the entire blog post here, and also check out Dobozy's excellent new short story collection Siege 13. It's available wherever fine books are sold, large or small.
16 hours ago