pop goes the world: indie bookstores

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  6 October 2011, Thursday

Indie Bookstores Thrive

San Francisco, California – When it was announced that US mega-bookstore chain Borders filed for bankruptcy early this year and gradually shut down its stores over the succeeding months, it was a shocking manifestation of the changing paradigm of bookselling.

Borders was one of my favorite places to visit; I could lose myself for hours browsing the shelves, going gaga over the sale and clearance items. I used to get Taschen artbooks there for only $9.95 each, marked down from some impossibly (for me) expensive price like $50 or $70. When it shut down, booklovers and bookstore-hang-outers like myself mourned. Where now, I thought, would I get my ink-and-paper book fix when in the US?

Where huge, unwieldy corporations may flounder and fail, small, independent bookstores may thrive. And that’s what I found all over Northern California. In Fremont, my mother steered me to Half-Price bookstore. The ambiance is like a library; they stock new and used books. They buy used books in good or mint condition from people and re-sell them for much less, making books more affordable and allowing older titles to remain in circulation.

At Rockridge in Oakland, along College Avenue, I was pleasantly surprised to find two indie bookshops – Diesel bookshop and Pegasus Books. Diesel carries new books, stationery, and store logo t-shirts, among other things. They have a good art section and a collection of Moleskines and other journals such as Penguin (the covers are of Penguin titles).

Diesel storefront.

Pegasus purveys new books and old (the latter under the name Pendragon Books). Two pillars at their shop were covered with bookmarks carrying the logos of other bookstores in a warmhearted show of solidarity for the bookselling community, competition be damned.

Pegasus/Pendragon storefront.

At both places there was a feeling of coziness, community, and caring not found at the commercial chains. It’s a struggle for small booksellers to stay financially viable in these precarious economic times, and admiration is due to those who keep the flame burning.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting the Argonaut Bookshop on Sutter Street in San Francisco. It was founded in 1941 and was the basis for the Argosy bookshop featured in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Vertigo” which I watched for the first time the other night. My stepfather handed me the DVD, knowing I would be entranced by a 1950s San Francisco in moody, textured Technicolor, the streets decked out with finned cars, men in hats and suits, and women in flaring skirts and carefully-coiffed hair. The movie’s Argosy shop is a booklover’s dream, with its wooden shelves crammed with volumes of all sorts of sizes; I want to see the real thing, and what it looks like now.

Not too far away, on Clement Street, is the Green Apple bookshop, founded in 1967 and which now sells new and used books, music, and DVDs. It is “perennially voted the best used and/or independent bookstore in the Bay Area” by readers of various publications, says their website.

Given the ongoing global recession, a decline of the reading culture, and the increasing popularity of e-books (my own e-book collection exceeds 5,000 titles), which are convenient and cheap, brick-and-mortar stores may soon become a thing of the past. Yet as a form or an artifact, I don’t believe the ink-and-paper codex format will ever die out. Physical books will always have their devotees.

Indie booksellers have a more viable business model than the usual, selling used titles along with the new. That reduces waste and encourages reuse and sharing. We sell used books in Manila too – Booksale comes to mind, as do the little kerbside stalls in Morayta and elsewhere in the University Belt. But there isn’t a store in Manila quite like the indie shops I’ve visited here in NorCal and come to love. Perhaps I might open one someday, a bookstore-cum-coffee shop. Now that’s a warm and fuzzy thought.

* * * * *

November will be literary month in Manila, and the National Book Development Board has a couple of important events lined up.

NBDB and Manila Critics Circle have announced the finalists for the 30th National Book Award; winners will be revealed at the awarding ceremonies on November 12 at the National Museum.

Due to space constraints I cannot list all the finalists here, but among them are:   Literary Division – Fiction Category: Blue Angel, White Shadow, Charlson Ong ; Below The Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes; Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol; and Lumbay ng Dila by Genevieve L. Asenjo, PhD.

Nonfiction Prose Category: Sagad sa Buto: Hospital Diary at Iba Pang Sanaysay, Romulo P. Baquiran Jr.; Sarena’s Story: The Loss of a Kingdom, Criselda Yabes; and Builder of Bridges: The Rudy Cuenca Story, Jose Dalisay Jr., PhD, and Antonette Reyes.

Poetry Category: Bulaklak sa Tubig: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig at Himagsik, Maria Josephine “Joi” Barrios, translated by Mark Pangilinan; Care of Light: New Poems and Found by Gemino H. Abad, PhD; Everyday Things by Fidelito C. Cortes; and If I Write You This Poem, Will You Make It Fly, Simeon Dumdum Jr.

Literary Criticism/Literary History Category: Gitnang Uring Fantasya At Materyal Na Kahirapan Sa Neoliberalismo: Politikal Na Kritisismo Ng Kulturang Popular, Rolando B. Tolentino, PhD; Imagination’s Way: Essays Critical and Personal, Gémino H. Abad, PhD; and Banaag at Sikat: Metakritisismo at Antolohiya by Maria Luisa Torres Reyes.

For the finalists in the Non-Literary Division and other categories, visit nbdb.gov.ph.

On November 16 to 18, two Pulitzer Prize winners will grace the 2nd Manila International Festival at the Ayala Museum in Makati, joining other international and local authors, publishers, literary agents, and book lovers to celebrate books, literature, and the craft of writing.

The event’s theme is “The Great Philippine Book Café”. Among its activities are panels on different topics about reading and literature, performances, book launches, and a book fair. For details, visit http://www.manilaliteraryfestival.com.

Novelists Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner in 2008) and Edward P. Jones (The Known World, winner in 2004) are the event’s guest speakers, where they will also engage in conversations and book signings. It’s time to dust off your copies of their books and re-read them, bring them to the Festival, and have them autographed. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these famous authors up close and personal.  *** 

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2 Comments on pop goes the world: indie bookstores

  1. f cortes
    7 October 2011 at 6:18 am (2115 days ago)

    since you’re in the general area, you also might want to check out city lights in chinatown (columbus near broadway), if you haven’t already. it’s definitely the landmark bookstore in sf, central to the beat movement and iconic (or, more precisely, iconoclastic) to this day.

    i lived in berkeley for 12 years, and your bookstore circuit won’t be complete without a visit to moe’s books on telegraph avenue. i don’t know if shakespeare and company (yes, associated with the parisian shakespeare and co.) is still around, but black oak books in north berkeley is and worth visiting as well.

    good luck, to both your book treasure hunt and your bookstore-owning dream.

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