Readersforum's Blog

October 29, 2012

The Bookstore Brain

Filed under: Bookshops — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 9:36 am

By Sam Sacks

If you could create a bookstore, what would you put in it? What would you exclude? Would you specialize in any particular genre? Would your organizing principle be quantity or quality, or would you devise a way to have both?

Nearly all bibliophiles—that peculiar breed of people who feel more at home in bookstores than in their actual homes—have at some point posed such questions and daydreamed about the utopian store they would construct in answer to them, the store that would smoothly combine expertise and aesthetic preference with comfort and commercial viability.

Except for the quixotically determined few who actually open a store, most book lovers must be content to tend to the garden of their own libraries. But for a few years, I had the chance to put speculation into practice. I worked at Housing Works Bookstore, one of the retail arms of the venerable New York H.I.V./AIDS nonprofit that was started in the nineteen-eighties by members of ACT UP. Like the organization’s thrift stores, the bookstore is run largely by volunteers and receives its stock entirely from donations. So at any given time, crowded under the steam pipes of the store’s basement and sub-basement, are scores of boxes of books—from publishers or magazines getting rid of their overflow, from the apartments of lifelong readers who have died, or simply from the shelves of New Yorkers who need to clear space. In those boxes is the raw material to make a bookstore. My job was to sift their contents, relying on my tastes and book-floor experience to select the stock. And influenced by the same fond madness that allows booksellers to continue to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the book-buying public still wants their guidance, I am certain that you will be interested in reading an essay about book sorting.

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