Okay, that settles it: this is National Whine About Publishing Month. Avenue Victor Hugo, a thirty-year-old brick-and-mortar bookstore in Boston, is going out of business. They’ve announced this on their website, and followed it up with a long twelve-point whine about the death of the small independent bookstore. I’m not saying independent bookstore owners don’t have anything to complain about; but Avenue Victor Hugo deserves some kind of prize for contriving to blame absolutely everyone for their demise.
They blame: Corporate law, Publishers (“marketing their product like so much soap or breakfast cereal”), Book buyers (“those who want the ‘convenience’ and ‘cost savings’ of shopping in malls, over the quaint, the dusty, or the unique; who … prefer what is popular over what is good”), Writers (who “write what is already being written or choose the new for its own sake”—a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t formulation that caused me to inhale part of a chicken-and-pesto sandwich), Booksellers, Government (local, state, and federal), Librarians, Book collectors (“now mere speculators … putting books on the same level with beanie babies”), Teachers, Editors (“offering authors the Faustian bargain of fame and fortune, while pleading their best intentions like goats”), Reviewers (“for promoting what is being advertised, … and praising the obscure with priestly authority”—another damned-either-way formulation), and of course The Public (“those who do not read books, or can not find the time; who live by the flickering light of the television, and will be the first to fear the darkening of civilization—for not caring about consequences”).It ends, apocalyptically:
Thus, we come to the twilight of the age of books; to the closing of the mind; to the pitiful end of the quest for knowledge—and stare into the cold abyss of night.It’s such a fine and mournful and elevated sentiment—Emmeline Grangerford herself couldn’t have done no better—that you almost don’t want to tell him that by our best calculations, using every scrap of reliable data we can lay hands on, at this very moment more people are reading more books, reading a greater variety of books, continuing to read them later in life, et cetera and so forth, than ever before in the history of civilization.
I expect he has a point, though, about changing patterns of commercial traffic on Newbury Street.
(All you aspiring writers? Please don’t read that AVH jeremiad and get depressed about the state of publishing. Like the imminent death of the internet, the death of the publishing industry is frequently announced, and so far has failed to happen. Not that it couldn’t happen; but in our case, these fruitless announcements have been appearing for centuries.)