Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores by Greg Ketter (Editor)
If you’re a reader, you probably have a favorite bookstore. Or maybe several favorites, as Neil Gaiman admits in his introduction to this collection. Or, if you’re me, maybe you’ve loved every bookstore you’ve ever walked into including big-box chain stores and, the biggest “bookstore” of them all, Amazon.com. In the end, for me, it’s less about the store more about the books. Each store has a different selection. I’ve found things at Barnes & Noble that I never caught a wiff of at A Novel Idea*.
This anthology has some great stories in which the bookstore is the star. P. D. Cacek’s “A Book, By It’s Cover” is an interesting take on the concept of the golem–the golem as building. I really wish there was a current Twilight Zone-esque anthology series on TV because I’d love to see a screen adaptation of this story. ”One Copy Only” by Ramsey Campbell features a bookstore full of books never written. This is the store where you might find the Harry Potter book that J. K. Rowling never writes. Of course, such a bookstore has measures in place to protect itself from surly writers. The anthology is topped off by “The Cheese Stands Alone” by Harlan Ellison. If the Fates had bookstores, what books would they “sell”? One yuppy finds out.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of things that really annoyed me about this book. First, many of the stories were about books, rather than bookstores. Don’t get me wrong, some of these stories are good, but the bookstore is only the setting. Despite its somewhat outdated technology, ”Pixel Pixies” by Charles de Lint is a fun story about Dick, a hob, and the pixies that invade his neighborhood though the bookstore’s computer. It could have been any computer. The creepy ”Non-Returnable” by Rick Hautala is about a book ordered by an employee of a bookstore. Cats are the stars of “The Hemingway Kittens” by A. R. Morlan. It’s a cute story, but more about the power of story-telling and literacy. Given that these are the things I value above actual stores, I don’t know why its inclusion bugs me so much.
Second, I found some of the attitudes in the stories off-putting. This anthology was originally published in hardback in 2002, at the very early beginning of ebooks. There is definite tension in most of these stories between big chains and small bookstores with a dash ebook and ecommerce worry. I’m not a fan of bashing chain stores or bashing “soulless” books or bashing someone who might run a bookstore but isn’t a “book person.” Only one story gets a pass from me concerning these issues and that’s ” ‘I’m Looking for a Book’ ” by Patrick Weekes. Gorhok the Immitigable is looking for a tome of power. At a Boundries Bookstore. If you’re going to push my artificial dichotomy button, make me smile while you do it.
*If I had to pick one store, A Novel Idea would be it. Yes, even over the two-floor block-long wonder of Powell’s.
Format: Adobe Digital Editions