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In Which Our Narrator Discusses Bookshops and Entrepreneurship

So this post by Damien G. Walter, writer extraordinaire and Clarion 2008 graduate, has jump-started all kinds of humming speculation in my brain about What I Want From Bookstores. And I want many things from them.

I don’t simply want books in a general sense, I want books that will change me, that I will love, inspiring fiction and non-fiction, which means I want intelligent, informed recommendations. I want the literary equivalent of a specialty bartender who knows my tastes and will recommend weird new drinks he, in his occult bartender scouring of the dark quarter, has found and enjoyed. As Damien says, “We want educated, erudite staff with whom we can discuss not just books but the broad range of knowledge we learn from them.”

So then I thought, “Egad, what if I could partake of a refreshing beverage while reading said personally recommended stories? What if I could talk to smart people, both staff and fellow patrons, about books I enjoy, and, through conversation, enjoy great books more deeply, and from various perspectives?”

I wish there was a bar that included a well-stocked library, preferably my “if I were a rich man” library, walled with inset, dark wood bookshelves bearing rolling ladders; it would be a wide room festooned with comfy chairs and couches, split into alcoves acoustically tweaked and separated for quiet reading, conversation, and pool, various sized alcoves intended for groups of three, six, and ten; all of it bereft of television; reserved for people who wouldn’t ruin it with body shots and discussions of “which Grey’s Anatomy character turns me on.”

That last bit is horribly elitist. As if, having created this citadel of the intelligentsia, I would be allowed in. Feh. But what sort of clientele would it attract? Would it self select? I think so. Other questions: would a club like this depend on foot-traffic, and random passers-by, or should it be referral or invitation only, like a speakeasy? Would it require membership fees, or could it subsist on proceeds of the bar/book sales?

Self sufficiency based on sales would be one way to avoid excluding, as Damien mentions, “the poor working classes who can’t afford the fees.” If I did require a membership fee, some help for people who can’t afford it would be necessary, but direct sponsorship, from one patron to another, seems like a horrible idea, because then an explicit hierarchy would develop, instead of the muddier status negotiation that already happens naturally. Maybe some sort of general scholarship fund? Because if somebody wants in, he probably likes to read, and so I want to include him. (NB: the “hims” here and elsewhere do not denote maleness. )

I’d want membership to a club like this to be earned, and therefore somewhat exclusive. But then, too, books are pretty great, and I don’t want people going without. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (But I’m not so large, and I should probably be more consistent.) Also, when one talks about earning entry, one has to develop criteria, and that’s some dicey business.

But I don’t think general literacy would be in any way hampered by an exclusive reading club. The public library is a wonderful resource, and is run by the government (in a good way?), and, at least in Wake County in North Carolina, has an excellent selection, smart, enthusiastic staff, and a killer inter-library loan setup, via which a patron can request almost any book circulating in the United States (maybe elsewhere too). I used to work at one of the branches, and man, I got more intelligent recommendations from my coworkers each day than I could possibly read (woo Southeast Regional Library!). And, anyway, I’m talking about limiting club membership to people who want to be members, so it’s a bit of a moot point.

This is a meandering mess, and I’m fairly certain I’ve repeated myself. Bottom line, fancypants book bars: why don’t I own one?

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  1. Writing by Hand « . . . Damien G. Walter . . . on Friday, November 13, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    […] Paul Bocaccio of Clarion ‘09 and my friend from the World Fantasy Convention ruminates on Fancypants Book Bars. […]

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