Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Few silver linings

Christopher's post below on the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in NYC is sad news indeed. A Boston LGBT bookstore in the city's historic gay neighborhood, with the terrible name of We Think the World of You, closed a few years ago (though Calamus Books remains - and is quite a store, well worth a visit, with a good website). It's amazing to read this article by Loren King from years ago on PlanetOut, when We Think the World of You opened, that references "three independently owned bookstores, each catering to a different segment of the gay and lesbian community." Times they have changed.

I am sad about gay bookstores closing, though it is inevitable given the access we all have to resources online as well as larger LGBT sections in the chain bookstores. These LGBT stores have to diversify and offer more than books. (Calamus does well with a healthy selection of porn, for example.) I wandered into the Oscar Wilde Bookshop a couple of years ago and if I remember correctly, I struggled to find something to buy. In addition, I do recall two problems: 1) an employee made a point to come out from behind the register and check out the other room in the store only after an African American customer wandered back there, which may have been a coincidence or may have been profiling, and 2) the photo Christopher included aside, the place had a surprisingly limited selection of titles. I don't know if this store could have survived but I do know some places are surviving even with online bookstores and our current recession.

On a lighter note, this profile by Justin Richards of Revolution Books/Libros Revolucion in NYC was a nice somewhat insider look at a store that is unapologetic of its "proud and unambiguous agenda: the replacement of the political and economic system that currently dominates the world—i.e., America’s—with transnational communism." I'm not falling in line with their politics necessarily, but I do find it interesting to see this profile on the same day as news of the closing of this other store. Would LGBT institutions do better to follow a cooperative model rather than demanding a profit from places - stores, bars, etc - that they sell as vital for "the community"? They sell their companies with such earnestness, almost to the point of acting like a non-profit, but then can't make it work in the marketplace. The formula is flawed.

So will bookstores across the board disappear, cooperatives or not, in an age of digitization? Noam Cohen's recent NY Times article usefully navigates the ever ongoing debates about Google Book Search, something increasingly used by scholars young and old as well as us more casual readers. It is not clear when we will see money charged, who will be charged, and how much.
Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia and a free-culture advocate, puts it this way: if the fight over digitization of books is like horse-and-buggy makers against car manufacturers, Google wants to be the road.

I do appreciate how the article ends, and think this conclusion has been borne out:
Google is “creating a new reason to go to public libraries, which I think is fantastic,” he said. “Public libraries have a communal function, a symbolic function that can only happen if people are there.”

Once again, there could be a way forward that preserves the hardcopy books while moving forward with digital versions - or at least I like to think. If I thought too much about it, though, I may recall the eerily empty rows of books during my recent visit at the Boston Public Library, the silence particulary notable in contrast to the bustling computer rooms...

Oh, and well done to George at BookNinja for providing a context for this news about Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's seven-figure book deal with Viking. Says George:

Dear longtime, unsuccessful-to-mildly-recognized writers,

Considering suicide after reading the above article? Well, please send your final thoughts and screeds to so we can post them on the web for all to see! How better to shuffle off this mortal coil with a clear conscience than by telling the celebrity authors and opportunistic publishers of the world what you really think of their entitled, artless, piss-midget ramblings. Empty your mind before you put a bullet it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know the owner of "We Think the World of You" Bookstore in Boston's South End, as my condo is less than a 90 second walk away from where they were located and he still lives nearby. I am amused when you say the "unfortunate name" of We Think the World of You, as that is why the owner changed the name of his bookstore to "Cuttyhunk Books" several years before his lease was to expire. The owner, Paul Rehme, told me that he had a lot of customers that couldn't remember his bookstore name, that he got mail addressed to "We Are the World" or "You Really Like Me" - as if Sally Field owned the shop.

I miss the bookstore. Paul told me that he had the right to renew his lease for five more years, but his last renewal was set at market rate. A bank outbid him, offering his landlord $7000 more a month than what he was paying.

(I can't really complain about this, however, as my condo has gone up astronomically in value, even after this downturn, as I bought when We Think the World was still an empty storefront in the late 1980s.)

What surprised me was when Paul told me that he was glad he didn't relocate his shop. He said that the whole bookstore business was in turbulance, that first he lost his music section which once provided a lot money to support his serious books, then a few years later the DVD business sank, as guys would come in and buy a thousand dollars worth of DVDs, and then try to return them later in the week claiming that none of the worked. (A little guilt here: I used to copy DVDs that I rented from Mikes Movies, but at least I was renting them anyway).

Since the bookstore closed I have been to Calamus only several times - once Mitzel was asleep at his desk in his empty store at around 5:00 and I thought he was dead. His selection is good, but I miss the days when both Glad Day and We Think the World of You had tons of new titles from the big publishers. I now do most of my shopping online, but even Amazon and TLA have a lot less books (fiction and bio) than they used to.

Again, I can't really complain because my condo value has dramatically increased, but I still miss the old South End, when I could buy stuff not only at my corner bookstore, but also at Tommy Tish, Marquis de Sade, Mike's Movies, The Movie Place, and the leather shop that used to be across the street from the old Geoffrey's, where Eros is now.

My husband and I are retiring to Fort Lauderdale later this year - where real estate is even cheaper - but I won't forget those wonderful years when my neighborhood was a great place to be out and about.