Monday, August 16, 2010

Jesus Loves Everyone: Do We Need Gay Bookstores?

In North American cities the rents are rising quickly and bookstores have a hard time keeping up, even those that are mainstream. London seems to be sufficiently spread out so that this isn't happening...or not at the same rate. This is purely conjecture on my part, based on mere weeks and limited walking, but I have to say the texture, the percentage of retail/residential, pleased me. And clearly these bookstores are able to thrive. Gay's The Word, just around the corner from Skoob, on Marchmount, was busy every time I walked past. Mostly filled with men, as it caters mostly to men.
When I saw the store front it really felt like running into an old friend. And I mean that in the sense of familiarity but more so in the "old" part. Literally I skipped back in time. To a time when such storefronts were risky. When to see them was to sense the hair on the back one's neck rising with delight. It also reminded me of  a much more complicated time where there were much less intricate relations between corporate interests and lesbian and gay culture--where the wit and sarcasm was more for play, more for coded play, than it was for general consumption; for advocacy more than selling cars, etc.

In fact his little store is a classic queer bookshop: intimate, upbeat, in your face.  Purchased this visit: critic and cultural figurista Terry Castle's "sexually charged memoir" The Professor.  I'll have to wait a bit to read it, but am very much looking forward. It includes "Desperately Seeking Susan," Castle's brilliant essay on Susan Sontag. Other purchases include and an assortment of excellently evil cards. For example:"Jesus loves everyone ... except you, you little cunt..." Yes, sarcasm is just one more service the Queer community offers. No longer free of charge, but there you have it.

There is a long, long, list of new books out that I must own, and to be honest, I hadn't thought of many of them as "queer" before seeing them in the bookstore: Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, for example, or anything by Ali Smith. Is that a matter of not reading in this context anymore, a matter of simply having one's identity filters on the side, a matter of age, or that the way we in North America are encountering "the bookstore" has and continues to change? Think about the number of gay and/or women's bookstores that have closed down over the past few years. Did we begin to feel there was no longer any need for them?

The long list of books about gay London would not have fit in my suitcase. Fascinating though. A history of queer culture in England. Not enough poetry--there never is enough poetry in gay bookshops is there? I don't know if my friend David Groff's anthology Persistent Voices was there. This is a new anthology of voices lost to Aids. Is there such a thing as a poetry bookstore? As a gay poetry bookstore?

In any case lack of poetry or not I loved, loved, loved this little store. So happy to know it's there, because yes, we need them. Check out this little blurb about a documentary about a gay bookstore in Taiwan. And say thanks to all those long gone and still standing. Here's an old favorite: Vancouver's Little Sister's.

1 comment:

pam said...

Great post, thanks for this.

"Literally I skipped back in time. To a time when such storefronts were risky. When to see them was to sense the hair on the back one's neck rising with delight."

describes the feeling perfectly--the illicit recognition, the excitement of storefront cruising, then entering & eyeing the other customers, the fear/thrill of being *identified* as you purchase these non-normative, even criminal, volumes. My first formative public experiences were in bookstores like these, more so than in bars or clubs. Sad to see so many of them phased out like other indie bookstores by the Amazons of the world. Relatively recently I moved to a neighborhood where there once was a LGBT community bookstore, one of the places I used to go to buy film festival tickets. Now it's either an empty lot or a fusion restaurant, my memory is faulty and can't pinpoint the exact streetcorner where it once stood. I'll tip my hat in tribute next time I walk by one of these sites. Better yet, I'll walk into a bookstore that still exists.

Books are sexy.