Sep 15 2008 8:55am

Bookstore as Escape Hatch

The Los Angeles Times published an interesting piece a few days ago by a writer named David Ulin entitled Letter from New York: St. Mark’s Bookshop.

If anyone has any doubt that genre fiction has crossed over—not just into the mainstream but also into more alternative corners of the culture—New York’s St. Mark’s Bookshop offers indisputable proof. I made a quick visit there this morning, and a good half of the featured new and noteworthy titles were mystery and science fiction: Walter Mosley’s Blonde Faith, the anthologies Manhattan Noir 2 and Steampunk—all on the shelves where volumes of Lacan and Derrida used to preside.

Ulin concludes with

This, it seems to me, is the real draw of books—not escapism but real (if temporary) escape. If the scene at St. Mark’s this morning is any indication, I’m not the only one who needs that in the midst of these confusing days.

Ulin makes me want to drop everything and head for the nearest excellent old bookstore to look for a door into a better world.

The LA Times also has a piece by Geoff Boucher on the reissue of Christopher Priest’s Inverted World.

Nick Mamatas
1. Nick Mamatas
"Crossed over"? St. Mark's has had genre fiction "on the wall" (their new section) for at least twenty years.

Have you heard that some telephones can be carried around by their owners, like in a car or even a pocketbook?
Kathryn Cramer
2. KathrynCramer
I interpreted what he said a little differently, having to do with the mix and placement, rather than the mere presence of the books. But indeed, the store's support of SF wasn't born yesterday. It is the only store in New York City that stocks The New York Review of Science Fiction and has been for some time.
Nick Mamatas
3. Carlos can't use his first name by itself here why?
The dude is wrong, unless they've changed the layout of the store between the end of August and the 12th of his column. The new and noteworthy SF and mystery titles are where they've been for years, the SF on a very narrow case right next to the electronic detector near the door, the mysteries on a much broader case to the right. I don't think that arrangement has changed in a decade.

The highlighted SF titles by the door are mainly that year's award winners (carefully labeled), and books that are, for want of a better phrase, post-cyberpunk: that fraction of new SF with possible broader hipster appeal, including small press titles. The overall total SF shelf space at St. Marks has dropped by about a third in the past few years.

The selection of new and noteworthy mysteries is great. International titles, noir, true crime, a compendium of pulp from south India. But again, this is nothing new.

The Lacan and the Derrida are where they've always been.

I guess there wouldn't have been much of a hook to the column to write: St. Mark's Bookshop, the same as it ever was.
Avram Grumer
4. avram
I think of St Mark's Bookstore as having a small selection of high-quality SF.

This is as good an excuse as any for my story about the kind of bookstore St Mark's is: Y'know how when a new Harry Potter book came out, bookstore would make it an event and stay open till midnight so fans could buy it right away on release day? St Mark's did that with the most recent Thomas Pynchon book.

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