Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hell Is Other Customers

Those of us who have done our time in the retail mine will find much to agree with in this savage little muttering from the NYT Book Review. And the rest of you would do well to ponder as you laugh. Are you the guy with the cell phone yakking away in the meditation book aisle or the amoeba-like creature flowing across the row and stopping me from reaching the poetry shelf? If so, cut it the hell out, or I will take action. You have been warned! [;>)>

from NYT via ksm:

Hell Is Other Customers
Published: August 21, 2005

WHEN did bookstores turn into flophouses? Just try to navigate the aisles of any of the big-chain booksellers on a weekend afternoon, or a weekday evening for that matter, and you're apt to feel like Vivien Leigh in that famous shot from ''Gone With the Wind'' as she attempts to get through the streets of Atlanta, which are choked with the sprawling bodies of the Confederate wounded.

The bodies at Barnes & Noble or Borders aren't wounded, but they're so immobile they might as well be. Finding an aisle not littered with outstretched legs, or a bookcase without someone leaning back against it and blocking the bottom three shelves, is like trying to step back for a good gander at the art in the Guggenheim. The chain bookstores have been designed to accommodate lots of people, and to make each one comfortable for hours. That's precisely the problem.

The new-style ''mega'' complexes in which the shopping mall meets the community arts center have bred a new bookstore culture where it's virtually impossible to do the thing that used to lure most of us to bookstores: browse.

It's not just books on sale anymore -- it's CD's, DVD's, greeting cards, stationery, sundry gifts, coffee and baked goods, and very likely health and beauty aids or tires in the not-too-distant future. More products means more to advertise. Trying to browse or, for the really hearty, trying to actually read is to enter an endurance contest in which your ability to concentrate is pitted against whatever new CD the chain is pushing. Is that new novel worth the 25 bucks the publisher is asking? Which travel guide best provides the information you'll need on your vacation? You'd like to find out, but who can tell while ''Kristin Chenoweth and Bryn Terfel Do It to Frank Loesser'' is blasting in your ears?

If music isn't playing, that's likely because the store is sponsoring a reading, amplified of course. Instead of browsing to music, you find yourself listening to the live sounds of the volubly disaffected cheering Chuck Palahniuk as he reads from ''Conniption: A Fit,'' or agreeing in righteous indignation as Nancy Grace declaims from ''String 'Em Up!''

These, though, are mere distractions. The essential Sartrean lesson that modern bookstore shopping teaches us is this: Hell is other people.

The comfy chairs Barnes & Noble and Borders have placed around their stores, objects that daily inspire the equivalent of the Oklahoma land grab, are limited in number. Therefore, aisles and floors become the designated drop zones. The unlucky chairless sprawl against the shelves or between them. Often it's impossible to stand within three feet of these living obstacles since, arrayed around them, they have their cellphones, their Blackberrys, their coffee, 10 or 12 books they've pulled from the shelves (whether or not there are other copies of a particular title and whether or not they are looking at those titles), and frequently there are accompanying boyfriends or girlfriends with the same accouterments splayed around them."more


halcyon67 said...

That is why I never shop at Big Bookstore Chains. Barnes and Nobles tries to screw you too.

I was looking for Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and I couldn't find it at Half Priced Books, so I went there. There was one copy that was $23.00 and another that was $9 hidden.

Mitch H. said...

This might be a Manhattan/NYC thing rather than a general chain problem. I've never had any issue with rude fellow-patrons in any Barnes and Noble or Borders in Maryland, Florida or Pennsylvania, nor have I ever seen anyone sitting on the floor in any of those establishments. I suspect it's a toxic interaction between chain policy and the characteristic New York flair for antisocial behaviour.

If this is the same Taylor who used to do reviews for Salon, he's a bit of a misanthropic crank on the best of days. Grain of salt and all that.

handdrummer said...

I suspect it's a time of visit thing as well. I've run into example of these jerks occasionaly in the evenings at the local B&N and often on the weekends. And we even get such 'anti-social' behavior at Webster's, with table colonizers who get huffy when asked to allow a customer access to the shelves about them.

As to New Yorkers somehow being more guilty of selfish behavior that elsewhere, can't say that I've had the experience. Assholes are everywhere, sadly.