02 July 2012

Barnes & Noble redux

I understand that the construction of memoir represents a somewhat dissembling enterprise. In this type of writing I attempt to read my past from the perspective of my present. In memoir I find significance now where none existed then. Now what I write is invention, but then it was all just life. I am learning that there are few genres as fictional as autobiography.
And so I am responding here to a friend’s description of a newly opened privately owned bookstore as possessing the feel of the bookstores she remembered from her youth in the days before Barnes & Noble et al. came along. She here voiced a critique of the homogeneity and ubiquity of the present incarnations of this chain of bookstores. I have some sympathy with her perspective: it seems to me that there are in the world nothing but chain stores; sometimes this is a comfort to me: as when on the horizon I spy a Starbucks or Caribou coffee shop; or find along the way another Barnes & Noble book store.
I am remembering (with some longing) my first visits to the original Barnes & Noble Store that was located at 18th Street and Fifth Avenue. Then it was, I believe, the only B&N in the whole entire world. I learned there how many books I could read: I was so much older then. The store was huge and there were books everywhere! Indeed, I am not sure that this wasn’t the first bookstore I had ever been in: I had known only libraries at the time, and here there were as many books as in the library except they were not organized explicitly by the Dewey Decimal system I thought) but in neat categories or disciplines (as I have now come to refer to such divisions) with prominent identifying signs displayed on the displays. Probably this was a version of the Dewey Decimal System that I had studied in school, but the only numbers I observed were the price of the books printed on stickers on the back cover.
In the front of the store and lining the walls were the more popular books and the books labeled ‘literature;’ on the island book cases floating on the floor were shelved the myriad trade books; there were rows and rows of scholarly books on shelves in specific categories, some of which I had never heard. There were tables with books piled high and long: books of photographs and art works and architectural models. There were piles of what I have come to understand as remaindered books: I have even now written one or two of them myself! I think I recall that there existed a store map one could attain at the front counter. When I walked in the store I felt as Willy-Wonka must have felt when he first entered the chocolate factory. My mouth fell open and I didn’t know where to explore first. It was there I learned to browse.
In the rear of the store were the text books; I hadn’t then nor do I now have the slightest idea what university or schools used Barnes & Noble as their book store, but there were listed by course title and number and on a very different set of shelves hundreds of very expensive and imposing tomes for sale. I hadn’t known books could cost so much. I have since purchased not a few.
I loved that store in which I spent many hours. And every Barnes and Noble store into which I venture still feels like that original Barnes and Noble at 18th and Broadway. Then I moved through the turnstile and the lockers into which all carry-bags would be stored (this before the ubiquity of book and messenger bags); now I pass by the sales table for the eReader, the Nook.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for recalling my visits over 30 years ago to that Barnes and Noble on the southeast corner of 18th and 5th.

I celebrated the life of my beloved and revered high school English teacher with the countless hours I spent at that Barnes and Noble and with the purchase of the plays of Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Henrik Ibsen, among other writings.

05 July, 2012 11:06  

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