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Thursday, August 24, 2006

I should certainly engage in some physical activity after consuming this dangerously unhealthy food product

Working in an office leads to having a lot of junk food around all the time. Today there were two birthday celebrations and a meeting which resulted in lots of treats around to be consumed, including "doughnuts the size of life preservers" (seriously they were large doughnuts) and some kind of French silk cake thing. God, I'm going to be enormous soon. My old job at the Adult Education Store solved this problem by folding all of their celebrations into one monthly celebration known as "Cake Day." That's one thing they did right.

Obviously, this has not been the season for blogging. The most notable event of recent times has of course been the closing of the Evanston Barnes and Noble, my spiritual home since the end of 8th grade. Actually it closed it's old location and moved across the street. I weep at the passage of this beloved landmark of my youth, where I spent many, many hours reading things without paying for them and solidifying some of my best friendships in high school, as I used to hang out with a lot of my friends there. Dust in the wind, dude.

Lest you scoff about mourning the passage of a chain bookstore branch, understand this was one of the first B & N's in the Chicagoland area, before they became a mega-powerhouse, and the design of this store was much quieter, more modest and quirkier than the prototypical suburban Barnes and Noble (which is what Evanston has now) You could get lost in those cracks and I often did. Still, this B & N displaced the Evanston Kroch's and Brettano's, the bookstore chain that once ruled Chicago. There's always a bigger fish.

So this was like my "American Pie". What Don McLean felt about Buddy Holly's plane crash is what I felt about this store closing. The Day the Books Died. So I'd intended to spend one last night there last week, to properly say my goodbye. Only to discover that the bastards closed it one day earlier than planned. So instead of "American Pie" it was more like Star Wars, when Luke comes home to find the charred remains of his murdered family. "Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru? NOOOOOOO!!!!"

And suchlike. Guess this is my impetus to go out and topple the Empire, then.

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Replies: 5 comments

No, I picked up on the irony with the Borders comment, I just decided to run with arguing anyway. I'm like that sometimes...As you should know.

Rory, methinks that you're forgetting that even though I'm arguing against you, I'm simultaneously agreeing with you. I don't know if that's satire or cynicism or what... however, I tried to make that clear by saying Borders was waaaaay different -- apparently, I failed.

I don't have the energy at the moment to issue a full rebuttal, Anna, but I'm well aware of the ethical (and aesthetic) problems posed by chain mega-stores, as I thought my original post made clear.

You seem to be setting up a false choice in libraries versus bookstores. I don't think you can blame bookstores for killing libraries, it's not like they're in competition. Libraries are publicly funded, blame people who don't want to pay taxes. And yes, I've spent quite a lot of time at the Evanston Public Library in the course of my existence too, but there are a lot of things libraries *don't* give you, like the privilege to walk around pointing at things and laughing loudly at them.

And to play the Devil's Advocate for a moment, yes commerce and consumerism are rife with abuses but they're also how the world works. What's your alternative? Collectivized agriculture? Get a job and a haircut, moonbeam.

If it's any consolation, I hardly ever bought anything there.

I love public libraries too but the CPl (those irritating new branches that Daley has built everywhere) LOOK nice but they are crap inside. In fact, they are hardly libraries at all. They are nurseries, video stores and trashy best seller peddlars. I hate them even if they do have free wi-fi.
I like my libraries old fashioned - no electronic devises at all and screaming infants??? WTF? My old head librarian would have pitched them AND their nannies through the front window - now THOSE were the days.

Maybe it's stating the obvious, but don't you think you could've just as easily spent many afternoons during your youth at the Evanston Public Library, not even a full city block to the east of the old B & N?

As an avid supporter of public libraries, I find it to be an extremely crass example of America's Consumer Culture that the average person spends more time lollygagging and browsing at B&N rather than finding a cozy corner at the local public library. The institution of the American Public Library is specifically designed to browse and borrow instead of buy, yet many choose the harshly lit environments where the quiet is broken up by baristas foaming foofoo coffee drinks, white kids with dreadlocks laugh and answer cell phones, and bookstore staffers who probably can't even tell you what the Dewey Decimal System is. I can't even count how many times my Mom took me to the Evanston Library, entering me in summer reading contests and helping me cart home several armloads of books, only to return the following week and repeat the process. Were it not for the librarians I encountered as a youth, I probably wouldn't have been able to skip ahead several grades in reading and math, I probably wouldn't have been tackling high school vocabulary while I was in the 5th grade, nor would I have earned the distinction of being the only student in Mrs. Newton's (PJXXIII) or Mrs. Shinto's (St. Pete's) reading class to earn perfect scores on papers like book reports. I wouldn't have been able to write full sentences by kindergarten or read Silence of the Lambs in 6th grade were it not for librarians. I wouldn't have had a nice safe place to study and hang out with my friends in junior high were it not for the Skokie Public Library. I wouldn't have had the money-saving ability to read a book for free and then decide whether or not it was worth purchasing for further re-reading at the book store. During college, access to a public library saved me several times as I was able to ask someone whether or not the research book I was using was actually worth my time or if there were perhaps something better suited to my project. And what about archives and microfiche! It's not like one can visit the local B&N and read actual newspapers from the 1920's or peruse archived local history on microfiche or go through complete magazines from the 1950's for fun!

I miss the local corner bookshop, even if it was chain like Kroch's and Brentanno's, because they specialized in providing books for sale, not coffee or popular music. They were not places to get all your holiday shopping done in fell swoop -- no extensive inventory of glossy coffeetable books, no gift cards, no CDs, no snacks, no comfy chairs; just a place to buy a book. B&N is the Wal-mart of the cultural world, killing the specialty shops like Act II, sanitized and smelling as if they pumped a fake "OLD LIBRARY SCENT" into the air and playing crappy jazz music. Meanwhile, public libraries close by the boatload and fight for every donation and penny they can get just to keep the lights on.

So while you weep for the loss of your old consumer hang-out, I weep for you...

(But Borders is waaaaay different.)

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