Thursday, April 26, 2007

Confused Demographics


As the gap between rich and poor in America increases, the literary world retreats further into its safe cocoon of comfort and affluence.

Approved literature draws away from the populace, seeking an upscale setting as final refuge. Its caretakers subconsciously relate literature's condition to art forms of days past, like opera or ballet. This is noticeable with the change in the styles of bookstores over the last decades.

When I was a kid, bookstores were seedy low-rent places with tile floors and glass window fronts; paperbacks by Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, or William Burroughs put at the front for the perusal of the mass public. (I think of Detroit's Merit Books on Harper Avenue, or Marwil's in St. Clair Shores.) By their very look and nature they were approachable for all classes. There was nothing refined or exclusive about the stores or their products; nothing high-brow-- which made them welcoming for a young guy like myself.

Today, new independent bookstores have an art gallery aspect to them, with glowing gold carpeting and untouched expensive volumes on blonde-wood display stands. Everything is cleanliness and purified air.

The big box bookstores of Borders and Barnes & Noble with their sheer size give the impression of popularity-- but look where they're located, in upscale neighborhoods (like Bryn Mawr or Rittenhouse Square) where millionaires hang out. The stores scream "gentrified." The customers inside them sipping latte at tables detract from this image not one iota. (Neither do the security guards prominently on display at the doors.) The lower classes are for the most part absent.

Bookstores are the face of an industry's increasingly upscale and insular mindset.


(Also upcoming: a Show Report, and another "Movie Serial" chapter.)

No comments: