On a few occasions  per week my work is peppered with a certain odd interruption.  I will be squinting at a faded ISBN, or trying to remove the ugly residue that Borders’ stickers leave on a used book, when someone approaches the counter, holds up an object that is shrink wrapped to prevent further inspection and clearly not a book asking me, “What’s this?” Each time this happens I shift my focus to I see what it is and I find myself explaining, it’s a pack of note cards printed with funny Freudian references on them, or it’s a notebook designed to look like a used copy of The Big Sleep that costs about eleven dollars more than an actual used copy of The Big Sleep, or it’s a packet of English Breakfast tea with an appropriate English author’s witticism garnishing the packaging, or… and so on. The the reaction to the explanation comes, anywhere from “oh…” to “OH!” and no matter the level of enthusiasm for the product itself, I always so suddenly find myself transported to some of the stranger territory many booksellers traverse today in which we wonder, “What the hell is all this crap that I am surrounded by?!”

The independent bookstore has long been a venue for odd accoutrements. The French Quarter’s Crescent City Books‘ eclectic array of prints is a fine example. On our shelves, the handmade post and greeting cards by (our very own) Sara White and Lee Kyle similarly occupy this realm. These offerings though, are small objects vying little for attention and require nothing in the way of explanation, fairly bookish in themselves. However the aforementioned goods, like the goods depicted in the (Dan Clowes) New Yorker cover above,  juxtapose these. Despite any bibliophilac product design, stamped on literary references, the loud proclamation these accessories attest of the owner, “I READ,” come somewhat castrated. There is a disconnect between these items and the quite personal service that the actual act of reading facilitates.

Now I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with Virginia Woolf’s face on a t-shirt, a grip of stickers promoting a love of literacy, or a notebook made as like passport hailing from More’s Utopia. At least not per se. What I am saying is that the flash-bang of these fun items are of a different sort. They’re new in the grand scheme, and to the curmudgeonly bookseller (who, me?), already contending with corporate conglomerates, web stores, and ebooks infringing on the field, they represent a high water mark. Their arrival into the store, though a profitable necessity, alters the landscape of a shop in which was once a destination to consume information, into a place in which one merely consumes. So the question begs, loudly in this year 2012, how long till the modern bookstore cease to store books??

I suppose that’s up to all of us.

Meanwhile Maple Street Used & Rare still carries holographic bookmarks depicting wiggly animal babies. They’re on display somewhere between the Proust and the titles on theater analysis. A gap poetically bridged!

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