Thursday, March 22, 2012

Indie Bookstore: Shakespeare and Company

Let's support this brand new (new today!) meme at Chapter 1 Take 1 called 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 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.


  1. Libby, you make some great points and mention two of my favorite things, A Moveable Feast, recommended to me by a very special person and Shakespeare & Co., one of my favorite places in Paris. But, back to your points, we have all lost something by the decline of local booksellers and while the book bloggers fill part of the vacuum, they can not provide the interaction of the immediate contact provided by an enthusiastic store keeper. The same can be said about all local retailers, including restaurants. Please keep the message local. Thanks for another great post.

    1. Dave- Thanks for your comments! And, for supporting a worthy cause :)

  2. Fun post!!

    I love supporting authors and BOOKS as a blogger, and it would be so fun to have a Bookstore, too!! :-D

    Thx for hoppin' by my Friday with your unrelated comments!

    Probably nowadays it should be virtual as much as physical, the great bookstore. I was so sad to see there are no "official" Indie bookstores close to me. I checked for the World Book Night distribution. It really made me want to start one. There's plenty of used bookstores in Oregon, you know, but that extra step is part of promoting BOOKS!!!

    :-) Thx for this great post!

    PS - I'm a new follower! Nice ta meet ya!!

    1. Nice to meet you too. Yea, you are right about including new books. I was thinking used so we could spill soup on them and it would be ok(!) LOL! THANKS for following!!! And, nice to meet you too!

  3. I agree with the concept that books should not simply be another opportunity for profit. It is through our writings that long dead cultures have been preserved. Indeed, one reading of the Aeneid would be a civilization, with its last breaths, trying to tell its tale to as many people that will hear it. Also, this is why the Rosetta Stone was so remarkable. It allowed us to read and the beautiful writing in those silent tombs of a time gone by.

    However, a business is a business. I can appreciate a person wanting to live the utilitarian life in servitude to the arts. I cannot, however, feel bad when the slow moving steam roller of progress hits them.

    You use the example of Sylvia Beach publishing Ulysses. You hit the nail on the head. She HAD to publish it. No one else would and at the time there was a high barrier to entry. Now, with the internet, publishing is easy. While there may still be a bit of a hurdle if Google or Apple doesn't like your book, there are many easy work arounds.

    The job of a bibliophile has evolved. No longer are they regulated to indie bookstores. Now, they can seek out audiences for their favorite authors. With millions of people's reading habits for sale from teh google it is not an insurmountable task to plant the seeds of tomorrow's viral hit. Yes, they still need to nurture, perhaps not nourish, upcoming authors. But now they are more agents than cheerleaders.

    Like any piece of history, it is sad to see the indie bookstores go. So many of our stories involve dusty shelves of wonder that people may subconsciously see it as an attack on our way of life. But the stories are not dead. Future peoples will not scracth their heads and puzzle over what happened in the early 21st century to cause the end of civilization. There are many stories left to be told. The indie bookstores are not going away. They are moving. To the cloud.

    1. Wow! That is a really well-written well thought out comment. (disclosure: The commenter is my son.). You do make some really good points! I appreciate you reading my blog!