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In Praise of Good Bookstores: A Literary Review

by Kahlil Crawford

In Praise of Good Bookstores: A Literary Review

"The bookstore is a haven for the heterodox." 

Whilst chronicling the history of professional bookselling, and drawing from the chevrusas (study groups) of his Hebrew youth, Jeff Deutsch passionately advocates for himself and his fellow booksellers (or les levreurs de livres) as essential in this century.

Deutsch wisely circumvents Amazon-bashing when establishing his case for a better-developed bookselling culture, which would entail a non-retail approach to selling books. Perhaps best articulated as one that would "rebuild deliberately what had first developed organically in response to the limits of space.”

Deutsch aptly distinguishes between "serious" and casual book browsing, as "exceptional bookstores both reflect and create their communities." He postulates that the "good" bookstore "is about interiority" as he guides us through the existential side of bookstore design and architecture:

"...the shape of the bookstore operates...akin to a literary form."

In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch

Deutsch offers several anecdotes of what this form looks like. My favorite is the bookstore as zuihitsu (following the brush) or is it ēnso - a freeing of the enlightened mind to let the body create? If so, humanity has severely underestimated the value of the bookshop for centuries now, which could explain the subpar human condition.

Like a book, according to Deutsch, "the imagination is...portable". It can be postulated that the bookstore is where the two meet and, with a purchase, marry. This marriage of the "life of the mind" is sanctified and consummated by the creative ritual of book browsing.

If a book is portable why, then, does a bookstore pose "a problem of space?" Perhaps it is because books are an illusion. Oftentimes books possess the knowledge we already have within ourselves, which would qualify them as a sort of trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye). When we physically see what we already know, we feel confirmed. That is, perhaps, the greatest attribute of the book.

If the bookstore is a haven for the heterodox, what, then, is the library? Deutsch hints that it is a kind of prison for books from which the booklover must rescue them. This makes sense. A "lost" book can remain on the shelf for millennia without ever being acknowledged save from the occasional dusting alongst the its spine. Bookselling, on the other hand, serves as a filtration process to provide the book buyer opinioned "essentials" within the great ocean of books (i.e. great books).

In conclusion, "In Praise of Good Books" remains true to its title and expands it. Through his historical and existential exploration of bookselling and book buying, Deutsch mounts a successful portrayal of literary lifestyle in an increasingly nonliterary world.

Kahlil Crawford - author of ØRGΛN C1TY: metarhythm - is a Chicago native. His writing has been likened to "a found artifact of an ancient culturally designed sacred text." Kahlil's work explores the meditative and existential qualities of the lived human experience. He has been previously featured in Subcode, Decoded Magazine, Electronic Groove and Unrated Magazine.

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