To further the conversation, here are two things about “community” and bookstores that have influenced my thinking on the subject.
First, above, is video of a talk by the amazing Matthew Stadler. In it, he discusses the future of the brick and mortar bookstore. It’s the source of the title for this post.
The second is a short essay from my local alt-weekly, The Stranger. In it, Books Editor Paul Constant takes all the talk of community building and asks someone to go ahead and put up (or rent out) an actual building:
So here’s what we need: a fairly large bar, nothing fancy, not too expensive. Open almost all the time. Maybe a typewriter here or there for ambience. Ratty books on shelves. Some sort of an area that can easily become a stage. Chairs. Tables. No TV, no Wi-Fi. No nattering blogs or flickering videos to distract from the words you’re writing, speaking, or reading. A jukebox stuffed with Edith Frost, the Magnetic Fields, and the Pogues. That’s about it for the hardware.
Both are on the right track, I think.
Some awesome literary projects have started this year like Submishmash and Vouched Books. I’m equally excited for LitSense, a collaborative advertising network for literary communities. I’m looking forward to learning more about this project. It would be great to see something like this take off. Advertising = money and money = good. Math!
I’ve been thinking about nepotism and croneyism and friends publishing friends because I often hear people talking, complaining, and bitching about the insular nature of (independent) publishing.
Intrapublishing (new word!) happens but not as much as you’d think. Some magazines are largely vanity presses but most are not.
We all know each other, right? We read each other and we publish each other and support each other and love each other and hate each other. It’s a small small community. The longer you stick around, the more inevitable it becomes that you will encounter people you know and/or like (or dislike as the case may be) in your submission queue. Does that influence editorial decisions? Sometimes. If I know you, for example, and you send me a 7,500 word story I will read it but that isn’t a guarantee of publication. Most editors are great people with integrity who can look beyond friendship and/or mutual respect. I get rejected from acquaintances and friends all the time.
Thanks to Brian Foley’s sharp eyes, here is a terrific NY Times profile on Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift, the contemporary artist’s Bible and parking meter guide to plying our (or “their,” if you hate artists and you just came to this blog looking for our we’re-a-real-literature-blog practice of Boobs Friday) “trade” in an era of commodified everything, when you have to explain how poetry is supposed to make you the skrilla. We don’t even have patrons anymore! So how–ask the barrel-chested Rotary Club wardens of the world–is poetry supposed to seat us cleanly on the respectable cultural (read: cash exchanging) train of gravy? Hyde is the original and saintly articulator of the “gift economy” theory, which answers that question by pointing out how commodity trading economies throughout histories have cordoned off space for an alternate system of exchanges based on gifting, giving things to people as gifts and accepting gifts in return, where you have 1 to 1 value (“oh, that is your gift, here is my gift”) and not weighted currency (“two of your sheep for eight of my fingernails”). This system builds its own communities based on–think Christmas afternoon–a kind of buzzy empathy.
Though I’ve never read Hyde, I’ve heard enough about this “gift economy” idea second and thirdhand to understand the basic principles, and I’ve always been kind of skeptical. Not because I’m into making bank off my litter-a-churr, but because I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole idea of “gifts,” the latent obligations of them (“dear grandma, thank you for the lizard balls”) and their harrowing ideological weight (“’tis tradition, young man, this gift giving!”). “Gifting” seems to formalize in some unnatural and self-congratulatory (self meaning group self here) way a process that should feel, I don’t know, more humble and altruistic or something. If we want to trade poetry, why can’t we just trade poetry? Maybe it’s just that the whole “gift economy” idea seems to be apologizing to the capitalists (“oh, here it is in a way you can understand, you know Christmas, right? you know about the ‘gift’ of talent?”), and that leaves a shitty aftertaste.
But! Like I said, I’ve never actually read the silly book. And this profile makes Hyde’s philosophy seem really appealing. All the ideas about how we’re communally developed, for instance, and how whatever genius might arise is not unique but accumulated: that sounds good. So maybe I will read the book now. And I’ll like gifts more.
What thinketh the commentariat?