Prufrock's Page

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Wanted: Quiet, Welcoming Bookstores

"Just try to navigate the aisles of any of the big-chain booksellers on a weekend afternoon, or a weekday evening for that matter, and you're apt to feel like Vivien Leigh in that famous shot from 'Gone With the Wind' as she attempts to get through the streets of Atlanta, which are choked with the sprawling bodies of the Confederate wounded...The new-style 'mega' complexes in which the shopping mall meets the community arts center have bred a new bookstore culture where it's virtually impossible to do the thing that used to lure most of us to bookstores: browse...It's not just books on sale anymore -- it's CDs, DVDs, greeting cards, stationery, sundry gifts, coffee and baked goods, and very likely health and beauty aids or tires in the not-too-distant future...Trying to browse or, for the really hearty, trying to actually read is to enter an endurance contest in which your ability to concentrate is pitted against whatever new CD the chain is pushing...The essential Sartrean lesson that modern bookstore shopping teaches us is this: Hell is other people."

That's an indignant Charles Taylor, writing in The New York Times. And then, in passage that reminds one of the goings-on at Danai in Khar, Mumbai, he says:

"There is a sign on the door of a bookstore in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn asking customers to be considerate about cellphone use. The sign did nothing, though, on a spring Saturday to deter a woman loudly carrying on a cell conversation with her child. Instead of reminding this human foghorn of the sign on the door, two employees were having their own rather loud conversation about the recipe for the really yummy food one of them was snarfing down. If some modicum of politeness isn't available from the people who work there, no wonder customers follow suit, rudely."



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