Book merchandising latest

There is a new junque shoppe in Parkdale, or rather it is an old one under new management. The previous owner and his young collaborators were charming, thoughtful, sincere, and a delight to drop in and converse with. They loved old books, which they acquired by the cartload (usually for free), then sold very cheaply. If I bought one, the lad behind cash would ask me about it. He would listen with ears and eyes focused, if I could tell him something of the author and his times. The store being seldom visited by customers, I would often find all hands intently reading.

There are still some young people like this, even today in Parkdale; the Seminary where I sometimes teach, is swarming with them. They are a joy to be with.

I must bite my tongue, however, ere I call the new proprietor a “junk-shop dog.” (Ouch! that was painful.) Instead, one is now greeted by a sneering face, which one might immediately identify as that of a liberal or progressive person. Alas, since he took over, I have made the mistake of going into the shop, twice.

“Books by the foot!” was the draw, for my second entry.

This was truth in advertising. He was clearing the large inventory he had found in the cellars by arranging all the books in stacks, by size and colour, then using such substances as packing tape to fuse each pile together. Perhaps, for fear of discounting his intelligence, I should explain that the tape was applied vertically, so that only outside covers were destroyed. The spines would still show, relatively undamaged. I noticed that when marked, the bundle prices would be an astronomical multiple of what the most valuable book in each pile would fetch in a “normal” second-hand bookstore; and that there was a premium on white spines. They were selling fast, I was told.

I can provide a simple explanation for this. The principal buyers of old books are now interior decorators, and the designers of movie sets. They will sometimes clear second-hand shelves like locusts, not caring what they must pay, for the bill is passed along to their “clients.” Indeed, the movie-set people are likely as not to donate the whole load back to the store, when they are finished with them.

Why am I not thrilled by the booksellers’ good fortune?

Because I’m a blue meanie, I suppose. Too, a fanatical, antiquated bibliophile, who looks on these objects as precious things, and cannot bear to see them treated in such a way. (Unless the books are heretical or immoral, in which case they should be burnt, of course.) And because, in this environment, the single soul seeking specific books must become a public nuisance. But then, I have been accused of holding an unmercenary attitude; one in conflict with the spirit of our age.

I told a (fellow book-loving) priest of the packing-tape fiasco. His response was more cheerful.

“Fortunately people don’t read books any more anyway,” he assured me.

He thought he might do colour schemes on the bookshelves in his own quarters: black for All Souls, purple for Advent, though darn, he would have to pay extra for the whites through Christmas and Epiphany. But what a good idea, to tape the books shut, lest he be tempted to read one and disturb the decorative scheme.

Indeed, he would recommend to the Librarian that all the books in his religious house be rearranged by size and colour, now that all the best people are doing that.

“The Dewey Decimal system is Hegelian anyway, and God only knows what Enlightenment ideology lies behind the Library of Congress system.”


POSTSCRIPT: On the burning, not of books but of witches, I have a piece today over at the Catholic Thing (here).