Indie Bookstore Friday. Please read my rant below and tell me what you think!!
"On a cold windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive."
-Ernest Hemingway, "Shakespeare and Company," A Moveable Feast
Sylvia Beach was an American living in Paris. She opened the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and soon the American ex-pat writers who had come to Europe for the First World War and then had stayed on in Paris - the Lost Generation - made her store their hang out. I read Hemingway's, "A Moveable Feast," which I have quoted above, a few years ago. The book illustrates how kind and helpful Sylvia Beach was to the aspiring writers. She let them have books on credit or on loan; she would help them get published; AND I found out through my internet research for this article that she actually published James Joyce’s "Ulysses." (As you know "Ulysses" is considered to be a masterpiece and many think that it is among the best books of all time.) The picture above is of Sylvia and James Joyce.
After the Second World War, George Whitman took over the store. He continued to nurture a different lost generation. It was the time of the beatniks and he was friends with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. He would let them sleep in the writers room.
I am trying to make a several points here. The first is that indie bookstores are run by people passionate ENOUGH about writers and writing to sink their time, money, brains, and hearts into these shops. They are not franchise owners looking for a business opportunity or college students looking for a part-time job. This is their vocation. You could argue that some of the franchise owners and employees of the chains are also very passionate about books, and I would not show them any disrespect by arguing with you.
I would just bring up my second point, which is this...an owner of an independent store has the latitude to nurture writers, readers and relationships that a franchisee might not have. Sylvia Beach PUBLISHED Joyce's book. George Whitman COOKED for them in the back of the shop. Sylvia Beach EXTENDED CREDIT. A franchisee is limited by his contract in what he can and cannot do. An indie is flexible.
That flexibility and ability to respond personally to customers brings me to my third point. Lately, I have been blogging about the independent food movement (See my posts on "Food Rebels, Guerilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin' Mamas" and "The Heirloom Life Gardener." I am behind this movement for several reasons, and you can read those posts if you are interested. But, one of the reasons is that Big Food is putting food decisions in the hands of fewer and fewer companies. We are becoming limited by what they choose to produce. Could the same be said of Big Bookstores?? Are we putting our literary choices in the hands of fewer and fewer people? What might be the result of this? Think about it. Sylvia Beach published "Ulysses." She HAD to because no one else would touch it - it was scandalous.
My final point is a plug for all my fellow book bloggers. As the indies become fewer, we book bloggers are in some ways stepping into the void. We are providing that personal support for writers - even if it is virtual, its there. And, I think that it means a lot to them. The READERS of the world are like Sylvia Beach and George Whitman. They/we have an important role in providing emotional support and financial (through book sales) support to writers.