Dear Uptight Seattleite,
I'm at an independent bookstore the other day, looking for that memoir by an advertising director who led a secret life in which he wore a bra with goldfish in it. I didn't think it would be a problem that I couldn't remember the title. It had been a New York Times best seller a couple of years ago, and independent bookstores are supposed to offer such expert, personalized service. But as I described the book to the guy behind the counter, he looked at me with confusion shading into derision. And apparently it was too much trouble to Google it on the computer open in front of him. The next day I got it on eBay for two bucks. So what I'm wondering is, why should I support an independent bookstore if the service isn't great and prices online are so much cheaper? I hate to see small stores killed by big chains and online sellers, but I also don't see why it's my responsibility to keep them alive. What is your take on this issue?Wavering Indie
An independent bookstore is really about interdependence. With the silent glow of fellowship from your fellow readers, the soft classical music, and the funky patchwork of fliers in the entrance offering to massage you, watch your dog, and teach you guitar, an independent bookstore offers a warm yet discreet embrace of your mind and senses.
That's just one way of looking at it, though. Maybe you prefer to have your book delivered from the Internet, dragging heavily across the face of the environment its tail of cardboard, air-puffed plastic, and glossy advertisements. I wouldn't presume to tell you that you're helping to kill the planet with your blind compulsion for convenience and price. Though I sometimes use Amazon myself, that's only because my tastes run to the obscure. Irish mythology, people's histories, all kinds of nutty stuff you wouldn't be interested in. But that two-year-old best seller you were after? Despite your one negative experience, you should have no problem finding it at any one of the dozens of independent and used bookstores scattered throughout the city.
Left Bank, Epilogue, Bailey/Coy, Recollection, Horizon, Twice-Sold Tales, Magus—the music of these names beckons you with a slyly understated sophistication. Perhaps you could make this music into a soundtrack for your meditation on how these quiet little havens, as precious and delicate as our disappearing wetlands, enrich the texture of our civic life. Especially now that the dark months are descending upon us like a gang of slow-motion spiders. Absent these bookstores, into what cozy chamber will you duck when it's chilly and wet and the afternoon sky is inky black? But like I said, if that's not important to you, no biggie. Log on and kill off the closest thing to sacred space that we reserved Northwestern souls have.
Dear Uptight Seattleite,
At my office, a certain individual likes to print articles from the Web that he thinks are ironic/funny/newsworthy and put them up on the office refrigerator for all to enjoy. Problem is, his sources of online content are not compatible with mine. My strategy has been to remove the articles anonymously after enough time has passed that everyone in the office has seen them, but I'd rather not see them at all. What should I do?Frigid Dare
Dear Frigid Dare,
Something I've contemplated while gazing at the bodhisattva figure in the stairwell of my town house may be of use to you here. While we in the West are blinded by the illusion of permanence, the East teaches that there are no objects, only events. What we think of as a "thing" is in a continual process of arising, abiding, and disintegrating. This is doubly true of a refrigerator, for it's both an event and a conduit for information about other events.
You can also conceive of the refrigerator as an island radio station. It's broadcasting to the little isolated community made up of you and your co-workers, as well as the odd salesperson and copy repair guy who may drift through like a foreign sailor. As with any medium of information, whether it's on an island or any other geographical body, the refrigerator must adhere to certain basic guidelines.
I'm not suggesting that anyone try to curtail free speech as practiced on the surface of appliances. On the contrary, my point is that free speech should be supercharged—with the power of respect. For we can only truly speak freely when we respect each other. That's just Karma 101. And your co-worker clearly doesn't respect your progressive sensitivities. (I'm assuming that you have decent politics, being a reader of this paper, which is at least a little bit progressive in its own lackadaisical, corporate way.)
Respect is achieved by consensus. Consensus is achieved by process. Process is achieved by committee. So I would suggest that you form a friendly neighborhood committee to determine which Web sites should be used as sources of refrigerator content. As we learned last week, there's nothing quite so powerful as a group of Friends.
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