Barnes and Noble isn't the only bookstore going out of business these days, however. They are just the biggest and ugliest. Bookstores themselves seem to be a finished institution.
We shouldn't be crying about the death of bookstores, however. We shouldn't even be crying about the death of books.
The death of bookstores means an opportunity for literature.
No more bookstores means that we will have a chance to recreate the personality of literature -- to sever the identity of literature from the identity of academia -- and to recreate the art of fiction apart from the art of cookbooks, self-help, and military history.
However, since bookstores are going out of business, the first thing that this new revved-up, cut-loooose literature will need is a new front.
A new front for literature means a new personality for literature, and that will be so nice for those of us who are tired of defending our passion with shit like "literature is very important for children" and "reading books is a thing that smart people like to talk about."
We need to be able to say:
"Hemingway used to hit people -- you know -- for being too rich. If you were too rich and you were at a party with Hemingway, you were probably going to get hit, and then he was going to steal your girl. Also, William Burroughs and William Gibson invented everything that you think is cool during one long night in 1976. Also, Virginia Woolf had ESP pyrokinesis and she used it to win WW1 for the Allies. The screams of her victims haunted her for the rest of her life until she killed herself by walking into a pond with her pockets full of rocks. And we all know that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara started communism in South America. But did you know they did it because Gabriel Garcia Marquez put a gypsy curse on them? Fidel Castro cannot die because he is already dead!"
Instead of selling literature as medicine and conscience, we should let literature sell itself -- as sex, murder, wisdom, glamor, whimsy, and armor.
Imagination is so dang, fucking powerful that it doesn't need defending or reinforcement.
We are losing bookstores (and books) because stories -- the living creatures -- are bored of bookstores, books, and their boring custodians. The new technologies for Story Deployment and Dissemination are clearly more efficient, robust, sleek, and energetic than the old ones. And we can make them more beautiful, too.
All art forms have a front, and an effective, representative sales floor is important if you want to stay lit up in people's minds. Here's how other disciplines do it:
MUSIC: clubs, venues, bars. When you look at your friend and you say "FUCK THIS SILENCE, WE NEED NOISE," you know where to go.
What this front says about the personality of music: music is beery, transgressive, sexy, aggressive, young, vibrant, and all about quick cash.
MOVIES: Big movie theaters full of wheezing people with elbow rolls who text each other during trailers ("I WUNT TO C IT NOOOOOOW!"), popcorn drool leaking from the corners of their mouths onto their rhinestone-encrusted cell phones
What this front says about the personality of movies: movies are communal, populist, greasy, overwhelming, and unite all kinds of illiterate folks under one big dome. Movies are big, like their fans.
LEGIT THEATER: Small theaters with names like "The Hurt Bear" or "Space 184" where everybody is very serious and there is nO popcorn.
What this says about the personality of legit theater: legit theater is exclusive, serious, and not intended to impact mainstream culture, or really anything at all
VIDEO GAMES: state of the art electronics stores
What this says about the personality of video games: You can only afford one at a time. Choose wisely.
COMICS: Tiny shops plastered with posters full of heaving breasts, swelling muscles, and grasping tentacles. A white man in spectacles is grinning at you, "sizing you up."
What this says about the personality of comics: comics are thirteen years old and are very excited about everything that happens to the human body, with sound effects
So the question becomes, what sort of personality do we want literature to have, now that -- thanks to the collapse of the publishing and book-selling industries -- we suddenly have a choice?
How do we want people to think about fiction? How can we undo the damage of the past by changing the nature of the place where fiction is sold today?
Given the opportunity, we should strive to make fiction's new front have four distinct personality traits:
WIRED: Lit shops should be technological marvels, where electronic media can instantly become hard-bound paper objects through the magic of print-on-demand, but without the inventory problems of big chain bookstores. Instead of huge barns or tiny cramped shops, lit shops will be more like bars or coffee shops, where a skilled bookista delivers you a novel (to taste) like a latte from the machine in back. You flip through the pages while you wait for the night's fiction reading, checking your email and finishing marketing reports for work or some shit. Whatever you people do.
INTERNATIONAL: New lit shops in America will not only sell English books, but will be repositories for digital and paper versions of books in every language. They will be hubs for international conversation, global discovery, translation, and language education. They will take The World to small towns everywhere, serving as miniature United Nations where the news from EVERYWHERE is available, collated, sorted, and on display. At a lit shop, helpful hacker/witches will guide you to information you didn't even know existed.
SEXY: Lit shops should be a place to get a drink, to find a mate, to argue about strange political theories, and to smell your own pheromones in the walls. They should be a place to see a naked cabaret or do drugs that don't have names yet. Stories are the satisfying meat and mead that people are missing when they go out to soulless modern bars and clubs, aching for some spark of connection or transcendent truth. Lit shops will fuel the human urge toward orgasmic connection using the time-honored glue of Powerful Wall-Busting Higher Narrative. The operating mantra: "We are all here to dance and get laid with people just like us" shall be replaced with "We are all here to merge minds and miscegenate like mad rats."
LOUD: You can go home and read your book in peace and quiet if you want. Lit shops are gonna be noisy. They will host bands, readings, arguments, games, contests, and wrestling tournaments. Lit shops will compete against each other to be the coolest, the most flexible, the most exciting, and the most rude. The days of giant bookstores are over. There is nothing cool, or noble, about a barn.
ANOTHER WORD FOR NEW IS "NOVEL!"
TIME TO GET TO WORK, NOVELISTS!
How to Start a Lit Shop in Your Neighborhood
It's not possible to "open a bookstore" anymore. You will never get a loan and no one wants classique booke shoppes anyway except some irritable old men who will not buy your books and who will hang out, scaring away potential customers.
Bookstores make people feel like they are at school, because books have traditionally been tied to places of learning which most people view as places of boredom, mind control, captivity, and silence.
Don't get me wrong. I love books and bookstores. But my associations are not the associations that the rest of America has toward books.
ACCEPT THIS. DO NOT GET ANGRY AT PEOPLE BECAUSE YOU THINK THEY ARE STUPID. Our elitism fucked up the fiction marketplace, and now we have to fix it.
We must lay our eggs in the brains of the animals that still live.
Steps to take:
1). Find a bar/coffee shop/club that you like and that feels right to you. It should have an atmosphere conducive to conversation and yet still have an edge.
2). Get a job there or get to know somebody who works there. Find out how the place functions and whether or not the owner is willing to try new things. Make sure they are willing to hold live events. Your goal is to shape the demographic of the bar by bringing people in for events that you manage and control. You are gonna take over the difficult job of events coordination for the overworked owner who will be grateful.
3). Bring in literary events three nights a week. Pick one slow night and do an open mic. Do it Reverend Jen Antislam Style, where everybody gets ten minutes, no matter what, with a sign-up sheet. Pick one busy night and invite a reading series in your town to perform, like The Moth or The Literary Death Match or...ahem...The Fiction Circus. Start your own Fiction Circus. Or start your own completely different fucked-up reading series. One night a week, hold a poetry reading in some other language. Poetry is actually exciting in languages that aren't English. Spanish poetry night, or Japanese poetry night, or Russian poetry night, or all three together!
4). Start a singles book club in this coffee shop/bar/bookstore. Get everybody reading a book that the lit shop sells them. Start a couples book club. Start a book club for athletes. Start a book club for busy executives!
5). Push for a small paperback bookstore rack. One of those twirly things you see in drug stores. Fill it with good paperbacks you pick up online or at used bookstores or wherever books are dumped. Charge a dollar a piece for the old paperbacks, and keep it well-stocked.
6). As the price of on-demand printing goes down, push for an Espresso Book Machine or something like it. Get on-demand books moving in and out of the shop to people who are coming and going, whether they are there to attend events or not.
Here, read this essay to see how to maximize the possibilities for on-demand printing...
7). Start holding book signings at your local lit shop. Convince the authors who are doing book signings to perform with your local reading series to raise the profile of both events. Convince bands to perform with your reading series in order to cross-pollinate and bring in cross-traffic.
8). Drugs! Find a drug dealer and help them build a client base. Not HEROIN....but everybody likes pot. It is basically legal now anyway.
9). Get yourself a reputation as a bon vivant and raconteur. Travel around to other lit shops and perform with their readers. Ask bars you go to whether they are a lit shop, or just a bunch of squares. Be real pushy and act like fiction and literature is the only goddamn thing that matters in the world. You believe this already, right?
10). Slowly change the nature of the bar/coffee shop/club that you frequent until people think of it as a literary establishment. The people who work there should have degrees in literature (it is not hard to find people with degrees in literature who need jobs). Take the bar/coffee shop/club over, now that the people there are more loyal to you (events coordinator and social butterfly) than they are to the beverages and seats.
11). THE WORLD CHANGES, FICTION IS SAVED
12). Make amends?
Lit shops are gonna be so badass. Don't worry. Let bookstores all die off. Soon we are gonna have a better place to hang out. Don't worry, don't worry. Books are not being stamped out. They are being freed.
Stories are tired of wasting empty decades in empty stacks; unread and unloved. Stories want out! And they are going to drag storytellers with them...
Posted by miracle on Sun, 08 Aug 2010 22:34:08 -0500 -- permanent link