Fate of books, reading and retailing appraised
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$1.50 for 150 days*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/02/2021 (546 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself… and the bogeyman — which turns out to be the internet retail giant Amazon. That’s according to international journalist, novelist, book lover and reader extraordinaire, Jorge Carrión. Free Press books page readers may remember his last effort, Bookshops: A Reader’s History. It was a wonderful, poetic mash note. His new book continues in that vein with 19 recent essays.
Unlike most assaults on Amazon, and indeed most ideological differences these days, there is no ranting or sturm und drang denunciations. The subhead for the first essay reads, “Seven Arguments: A manifesto.” These include thoughts such as: Amazon is not a bookshop, it is a hypermarket; there is a distinction between a widget and a book; there are no booksellers on Amazon, and; I don’t want them spying on me.
Still, there is a choice to be made here, and Carrión recognizes the challenge, while remembering that bookselling is a blend of art and commerce. As he said at the end of his previous book, “We should not deceive ourselves: bookshops are cultural centres, myths, spaces for conversations and debate… but above all bookshops are for business.”
It was his essay on Amazon that led Canadian publisher Biblioasis to encourage Carrión to cull his latest Spanish writings, aided by translator Peter Bush. The topics here range from reading, to libraries public and private, bookstores and new technologies, as well as interviews, including one with author Alberto Manguel, with references to his time in Canada.
The result is an eclectic circus of topics. Some are a few pages in length, the longest is 20 pages and is titled Where Does Paper End and Screen Begin?
World traveller that he is, Carrión finds that Seoul, South Korea is finding a way to keep bricks-and-mortar stores alive: “The crises all bookshops face are similar, but each city confronts its crisis in its own way. Seoul has imposed an unexpected hybridity: a bookshop selling posters in a shopping centre made from shipping containers; a bookshop and a bank branch; a bookshop and a clothing store; a bookshop and an airport. Four responses to the same question, in a city that seems to exist in humanity’s next decade.”
Used booksellers are visited and praised as well, including a reference to Helene Hanff’s gem. “The best non fiction narrative I know about bookshops is 84 Charing Cross… its great conundrum begins with the traits of booksellers.” There’s also a love letter to Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, titled Before and After Borges, indicating his effect on storytelling; and there’s a peculiar, esoteric travelogue to Capri focusing on the quirky, self-defining author Curzio Malaparte.
Against Amazon is an optimistic overall take on books, reading and retailing, and an attempt to avoid ending up knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, even as Amazon is reported to be in discussion with public libraries in the United States to provide e-books.
Trojan horse, poisoned chalice or just clever marketing?
Ron Robinson was a founding partner of McNally Robinson Booksellers.