Tradition vs Invention Tuesday, Jul 31 2012 

The e-book versus the, er, traditional book has been a hot topic of conversation in the bookselling world basically since the invention of the former. It’s a weird territory to tread. Selling the content of a book through a digital source isn’t exactly something that most booksellers are thrilled about. The technology isn’t old enough for people who’ve turned their love of literature into a modest career for the e-book format to occupy a space in their hearts. Part of selecting a good book is the physical act of browsing for it, and the little bit of enchantment that comes along with doing so. On the other hand incorporating the sale of e-books online or in stores has become a necessity for small businesses like us to stay afloat in a dynamic and currently economically crippled market. So it becomes the duty of the bookseller to at once encourage people to embrace his or her personal passion for books, but still accept the fact that they times they are a-changin’ and to make people aware that whatever the platform one chooses to read upon, there is still no reason to bow to the big business corporate booksellers who’d have the neighborhood bookstore be a thing of the past to further line their pockets. Maple Street Book Shops sell e-books, as do many other locally owned book shops throughout New Orleans and the world.

It’s a conversation that at this point I’ve had so many times that I try not to get into it too deeply anymore. I’ve got some great friends who swear by their e-readers and at this point I’m mostly of the “have it your way” kind of viewpoint (just shop local!). Most arguments I can come up with can be countered because they all boil down to personal preference. There’s just this one thing I can’t get over, and I was reminded of it again today when I got into a conversation with a customer about Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind.

The Shadow of the Wind is a novel about a book of the same title, features a book graveyard, and just in general revolves around the existence of these objects that have come to play the foremost role in the intellectual world as we know it. It’s a book I have a hard time imagining reading in reverie off of a screen. Borges The Library of Babel, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and many more bear this same burden. Reading on the madness and magic of the printed word, not printed. Gosh it’s almost DADA or something when you think too much about it. Perhaps therein lies the appeal that I’m just confounded by.

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres and acres The Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the out girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On
At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Hand Just
In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable
Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
Mow that you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.
-Italo Calvino


THE RETURN Saturday, Jul 28 2012 

Upon returning from a week plus a day long vacation, I see the used shop has been busy. Happily though the work backed up for me is far less daunting than I feared. I was pleased to see that a good amount of the titles which had been on display before I left seem to have found homes, being replaced with those of equal or even higher quality. A pile of now-classic accounts of punk and post-punk through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, now grace our music section (Please Kill Me, Our Band Could be Your Life, Rip it Up and Start Again, to name a few), I was able to place copies of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller on my staff picks’ shelf (exciting for me). Contemporary favorites like Jonathan Safran Foer and Vonnegut and Kingsolver are again in ready supply, and even a signed copy of Al Gore’s Our Choice has made a nest for itself on the new arrivals shelf.

It is indeed nice to be back. My only sadness is that although the dollar rack in front of the store has been pillaged, those unabashedly Kafka-esque Animorphs books still remain there untouched. Is it possible that nobody wants them even for a buck?! Please! They kinda freak me out!

I did quite a bit of reading on my trip. A seven hour layover in Phoenix AZ paved plenty of time for it. Later this week I’ll post some thoughts on a few recent works I had the chance to digest. Again, wonderful to be back home in New Orleans. Hope to see you at the shop!