Barnes & Noble
What the reviled chain did for literary culture
Allow me a moment to sing the praises of Waldenbooks—yes, Waldenbooks, the Borders subsidiary that privileged grab-and-go buying ahead of casual browsing. It was the kind of place you went when you needed to buy a book but didn’t particularly care for bookstores.
I. THEY ARE, in their very different ways, monuments of American civilization. The first is a building: a grand, beautiful Beaux-Arts structure of marble and stone occupying two blocks’ worth of Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The second is a delicate concoction of metal, plastic, and glass, just four and a half inches long, barely a third of an inch thick, and weighing five ounces. The first is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). The second is an iPhone.
Many years ago the AFL-CIO gave Union Station, the big Beaux Arts train station opposite the Capitol in Washington, D.C., a statue of A. Philip Randolph, the great labor and civil rights leader. Randolph organized and was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which waged a 10-year battle to win recognition from the Pullman Company. He was also the person who first conceived what eventually became Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington.
Today is finally the day you can walk into a Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy of The Escape Artists—or, for that matter, simply order it on Amazon, no “pre-ordering” involved. On the off-chance you’d like to know what you’re getting into beforehand, The New York Times has a review of the book in today’s paper, and The Huffington Post has written about it here and here.
I’m a longtime customer of Amazon—everything from books, eBooks, and two Kindles to tennis balls and baseball caps—but I’m looking for an alternative. I’m not unhappy with Amazon’s service, but with its politics. Amazon is waging an aggressive campaign to prevent revenue-starved California from collecting sales taxes from the company’s customers. And that’s only its most recent effort to prevent states from levying sales taxes on online purchases. States have always had the right to charge taxes on the purchases its citizens have made, whether at retail stories or by mail order or online.
Barnes & Noble introduced the latest version of its Nook e-reader today at its Union Square store in Manhattan, with a considerable amount of hoopla. (The New York Times drily noted, "Barnes & Noble did its best to heighten the theater of the event, surrounding the seated news media with dozens of employees dressed in black, who loudly applauded, hooted and whistled throughout the presentation by William Lynch, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble.
The PC era ended this morning at ten o’clock Pacific time, when Steve Jobs stepped onto a San Francisco stage to unveil the iPad, Apple’s version of a tablet computer. Tablets have been kicking around for a decade, but consumers have always shunned them. And for good reason: They’ve been nerdy-looking smudge-magnets, limited by their cumbersome shape and their lack of a keyboard.
The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future By Robert Darnton (Public Affairs, 218 pp., $23.95) On the Commerce of Thinking: Of Books & Bookstores By Jean-Luc Nancy Translated by David Wills (Fordham University Press, 59 pp., $16) I. The airplane rises from the runway. Bent, folded, and spindled into the last seat in coach class--the one that doesn’t really recline--I pull my Kindle out of the seat pocket in front of me, slide the little switch, and lose myself in Matthew Crawford’s story of his passage from policy wonk to motorcycle mechanic.