Sunday, September 25, 2005

Something missing

One of the things I hate about big modern bookstores (sheesh! that makes me sound like I'm 60 years old, doesn't it) is how well stocked and organised there are. I know this is supposed to be a good thing. I know I'm the same person who used to complain bitterly about how you could never find more than a few books by any given author at the bookstore - so you'd think I'd be pleased with a store where you could get pretty much everything a particular writer had ever written, all arranged in neat alphabetic order.

The trouble is that a large part of what made book shopping fun for me was the thrill of discovery that came from being in a tiny bookstore and having to hunt about for a particular author / book (see my earlier post about pavement book sellers in Bombay here). You could spend hours searching for a book that you wanted (or any book that you wanted) and there was a curious sense of elation at finding something worthwhile, precisely because the probability of this was so low. In these large modern book stores, you're pretty certain to find what you're looking for, so there's really little difference between shopping at your local Barnes and Noble and just browsing for books on Amazon (except that Amazon's usually a lot cheaper; and you don't have people talking loudly on their cellphones all around you)

The other thing that irritates me about big book stores is the sheer mindlessness that goes into arranging their book collections, the absence of discernment, the complete lack of personality. Because these stores are soulless automatons, you'll end up with Paulo Coelho next to J M Coetzee and Pamela Andersen on the same rack (heh) as Amis, Austen and Atwood. It's not just that I find this annoying (because it makes the whole collection seems like a steeple chase, with me jumping over row after row like a frenzied horse) it's also something that I find actively insulting - a blow to intelligent reading everywhere. After all, this is the same store that has a seperate section for sci-fi cartoons, so why would they club all this stuff under the general rubric of literature and fiction? They'll put Asimov and Camus in different sections, but put Sartre and Danielle Steele in the same rack?

My response to all this is what I call negative browsing. I no longer spend time in book stores looking for books they have - I spend my time searching anxiously for the books they don't. This means that I will trawl through their shelves, looking for a) authors they don't have, b) books they don't have from authors they do or c) books that are in the wrong place. It's childish, I know, but there's a sense of great satisfaction I get from being able to outthink these big corporate behemoths, in being able to find fault with them.

So, for instance, here are the five things that are missing from the Barnes and Noble on 66th and Broadway (I mention only the most glaring omissions. I'm not going to talk about how they had Byatt under S, for instance):

1) Flaubert's A Sentimental Education
2) Henrich Heine's poetry
3) William Golding's Rites of Passage
4) Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus
5) Carson McCuller's Reflections in a Golden Eye

Instead, what they do have is a book called Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle ran Hogwarts. Is nothing sacred anymore? Surely one should be able to browse the Philosophy section without having to be assaulted by J K Rowling and her ilk (Harry Potter forsooth!).

I love being pedantic.


Jabberwock said...

Um, wait a minute *slaps self on side of head in disbelief* ...does this mean you're not 60?

BTW, I saw a Coetzee next to a Coelho at a bookshop just the other day, even thought of blogging about it.

ravi said...

'well stocked' or 'well-stocked'?....and 'there' are? (Yeah, I love being pedantic too).

Heh Heh said...

jeez. grammar vultures.

Falstaff said...

Jabberwock: No, no. I know my PhD is going really slowly, but I hope to be done with it BEFORE it's time for me to retire.

Ravi: Ya, ya. Fine.

HWSNBF: Ya, I know. They're the ones who always seem to have a bone to pick. :-).

Karthik said...

Ok, stop cribbing. The local bookstore here has a section called Literary Criticism - one full shelf. And as far as I could see, the entire shelf was taken up by copies of the same book:

The Big Book of Insults.

I tried taking a picture, but the store manager stopped me and told me that photography was not allowed in the store. I would do the same thing if I were him.

Falstaff said...

Karthik: :-). Now that is really adding insult to injury.

ravi said...

Crude attempt at being 'smart alecky'. Admire the way you write and think you are an excellent poet sir.

Falstaff said...

ravi: thanks. But could you not call me sir. Makes me feel like I should be out there in my burnished armour rescuing fair maidens. And you know what hell it can be trying to find a parking spot for one's trusty steed in this city.

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