Friday, February 02, 2007

Two articles of note

I'm still sad about Molly Ivins and have read now fewer than half a dozen obits, including Krugman's kind one today sent by a friend who has the elitist Times Select.

But grudgingly moving on...

This story on yahoo is about "A Million Penguins," the wiki book being generated, I guess one would say, by what the article calls "enthusiasts." I like this phrasing, as it kind of undercuts a notion of specialized knowledge, in contract to the implied "expert" when one says "author."

In typical British skepticism, we have this:

"This is an experiment. It may end up like reading a bowl of alphabet spaghetti," Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of digital publishing at Penguin UK said, adding there were no plans as yet to publish the completed work.

"We are not making any predictions. It would be utterly fantastic if we could at the end create a print remix."

So let's not celebrate this collaborative, digital future just yet, okay? This is why I liked living in England - the pause before getting excited, which just often doesn't exist in America.

The other article of note was from the Globe earlier this week, by Kate Whouley. The now-author mourns the loss of a Waldenbooks in Needham, Mass., where she was once a manager. I read this and had memories of a B. Dalton store in Deerbrook Mall, in Humble, Texas. I wouldn't think of this sudden memory as sad or mournful, as I'm sure it's no longer sitting there across from the food court (which now has a massive movie theatre stuck on the end of it like some kind of spaceship), on the second floor, by the escalators, stocking largely business, self-help books, and mass market fiction. The Bookstop across FM 1960, owned by B&N, hurt that B. Dalton and I'm sure resulted in its death.

Since that time - we're talking 15 years here - a Half-Price Books has opened a bit farther down 1960. Those of you outside of Texas might now know this used books / remainders stocking chain which has done incredibly well for itself. I haven't seen the one in Humble, but I'll be in Houston next weekend so maybe I'll try to take a look at the book situation in my old stomping grounds.

I distinctly remember as well looking up a used bookstore while in high school, and finding a listing for one in old town center in Humble. I was just starting to take an interest in book culture and had my own car - ah that '86 Corolla served me well. So off I went to this place, hoping to find dog-eared corners of classics, Kerouac and Tolstoy and Plath (I confess) and what have you. Imagine my disappointment in finding dusty shelves full of 10 cent romance novels, with an older overweight woman looking strangely at me from behind a decrepit wooden counter.

So Whouley's point is that this Waldenbooks will be missed: "The Waldenbooks in Needham, despite its corporate affiliation, was a neighborhood bookstore." Fair point. So can corporate bookstores still trigger nostalgia? And should we repress or deny that nostalgia? We shouldn't, but we also shouldn't be uncritical of it. Having worked at corporate bookstores myself - both B&N and Borders in fact - I can say that there were great people there, customers and fellow staff alike, but I'd still take it all back to have been able to put in time at an independent. I guess at some point, though, I'll just have to open my own. I wonder how that used place in Humble's doing, and if that woman, an avid reader I'm sure, is still manning the counter with her bifocals and knit shirt....

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