Sunday, October 18, 2009

With Nounou and Nada and Nell

Back I went, tonight, to yet another gathering of the locally bookish, the latest iteration of Paul Constant's "Get Lit," this time held at the wonderful Richard Hugo House. The bar there now accepts credit cards, so a good time was had, at least by me, on a tab. The premise of these regular congresses of booksellers, journalists, librarians and authors is rather simple, the idea being that any and all that earn their living from books might and ought to get to know one another. As with any such simple idea, it seems that too many think too much about just what this might actually entail and fail to come at all for fear of being asked to do or say something. Timid creatures, it seems, the bookish. In reality, the atmosphere is so casual as to be easily mistaken for a drink after work with the usual crowd. So it is, and not a bad thing either.

I had a cocktail called a "Winter Woo Woo." It was delicious. Friends had various beers and soft-drinks, red wine and a share of the cheese and crackers at our table, as well as a bowl of wasabi peas.

Various coworkers from the bookstore, and one writer and reviewer, a great friend to us at the Used Books Desk, joined our table and we all chatted merrily enough about books, our personal lives and disappointments, the upcoming Seattle Bookfest, and various sundry other things all to do or not with books.

I stepped out a few times, to smoke and admire the boys playing soccer in the park across the street. It was a beautiful night, if already a little colder than it has been so far this October, and I was delighted to witness two handsome young men pull their wreck of a car into a very narrow parking place indeed, then step out of the car and into the cold, where they proceeded to strip down to just the thinnest T-shirts and the tightest jeans, tossing their coats and scarves behind them into the car, before shivering off down the block, presumably to the nearest dance bar. When I related this story to someone at the party inside, as an example of the ongoing commitment of gay men to fashionable discomfort, even when faced with what might have been a long cold walk back to their car, it was pointed out to me that teenage girls might well be the only other population so committed to suffering for beauty's sake. Later, starving, I stopped for a burger at Dick's and saw this observation confirmed by half a dozen nymphets with quivering, ice-white bare midriffs, all their little boyfriends sensibly bundled in coats and scarves.

The topic most on the minds of those present at Hugo House seemed to be the potential move of The Elliott Bay Book Company to new digs. This story had been first mentioned publicly by Mr Constant in The Slog, and then reproduced, and sourced rather rudely in the Seattle Times Sunday Edition, as having come from a "tabloid." Rumors of this move had evidently been circulating for some time, though I hadn't heard of it until I read Mr. Constant's piece. Before I left, some employees of that admirable bookstore came in, and the topic revived, though I don't know that anything was said on the subject that hadn't been said earlier. Evidently, those that know anything much more about this business have yet to be heard from.

I can't say that any such change of location sounds a very good thing to me, as it's present home is a lovely and welcoming space, and in my experience the only reason any such move is undertaken is usually because of financial pressures, a lost lease and such like difficulties. Everyone present clearly wished the bookstore well, but there was some discussion of the wider implications should such a linchpin of the local trade be forced into a less attractive and historic location.

Thoughts and prayers, as would be said back home, are with them.

There was one note in the conversation I did not much like. When reference was made to the somewhat excessive language in the Times story, which referred to the bookstore as "a local institution" and, as I remember it now, "an icon," not only the reporter's choice of words, but the idea of a bookstore qualifying as a landmark was dismissed as risible. "It's a business," someone present said, as if those two things were mutually exclusive, and then someone said, "It's not like we're talking about the Space Needle." The difference, to my mind, between The Elliott Bay Book Company and the Seattle Space needle is the difference between a beautiful, working, commercial and cultural venue that has served our community for better than thirty five years and a piece of, yes, iconic local kitsch. I would miss the latter, useless thing terribly should it disappear tomorrow, but the potential loss of a great independent bookstore should give all of us considerably more pause than it seemed to do in a room full of men and women who make their livings from books. Should the landscape some day soon be without such independent bookstores, great or small, the effect would be far worse, as I see it, than if the city failed to maintain it's more famous architectural follies, no? I don't remember much in the way of literature, art or poetry finding a public by way of amusement parks.

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