Surprisingly, I am less sure than this guy on Slate that independent bookstores are killing literacy.


A gentleman named Farhad Manjoo just posted a proudly contrarian article on Slate explaining why independent bookstores are not only irrelevent but maybe even harmful. I work at an independent bookstore, so that’s an argument I’d be very very curious to see made well. Honestly, I know the failings of small booksellers as well as anyone, and it’d be good to see them articulated. But that’s not what this essay was. Let’s look at it. All of it. In detail.

I’ll be interjecting my thoughts into the text of the essay itself. I know that’s a pretty ungenerous way to go about it, but as you’ll see, Mr. Manjoo is kind of an asshat, so I’m not feeling generous.

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I liked this response. The Slate piece was infuriating and contrarian, of course, for the sake of hits and talking. Ugh.

In my experience, bookstores are such a wonderful, crucial hub of community in a neighborhood. Even when it’s the boonies and your only option is Barnes and Noble. There’s still a sense of discovery to the place. Secondly, who would trust an online review of something, if that’s the only thing available? You really don’t want people’s taste to be reduced to algorithms and other people’s slipshod, unedited opinions with a lack of rhetorical rigor.

For example, I did time approving and rolling through Tripadvisor reviews, and it’s painfully obvious that somebody has to care enough about their experience with whatever to “community review” something, and that biases become very, very clear when you’re dealing with online community reviews (from Yelp to Amazon), and who knows if that actually results in the truth.

My favorite one was an epic tale of a woman who went to an all-inclusive resort for her son’s wedding, her ipod was stolen at some point, and she went to ask for help and stayed in the lobby, announcing the theft every 15 minutes. She ends this story by talking about how she made a fuss and then her hungover-from-his-bachelor party son disinvited her to the wedding. Obviously, there’s a lot of subtext here, and what that has to do with the experience that the resort supplies… well, that’s different. Was it the resort that sucked? Or was the lady crazy? And what was her relationship with her one and only son? He disinvited her from his destination wedding! Clearly, it could’ve gone both ways. And frankly, that’s not fair to the resort, in this case.