Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The End of Another Literary Landmark

It's no secret to anyone who has read this blog how much books and great bookshops mean to me; in a way, they're almost my lifeblood. So it was very distressing this morning to wake up and find several articles in my e-mail inbox about the demise of the Gotham Book Mart, a literary institution in New York City for decades.

I had the opportunity to visit once while I was in New York in 1995, and the one thing I remember strongly about walking through the front door was the tremendous history that hit me in the face, knocked me around, surrounded me. It was one of those extraordinary places where world-famous authors could be found scanning the shelves alongside the average Joe or Jane off the street (although on the day I visited I think it was just Joes and Janes in the stacks). The owner, Andreas Brown, was a real gentleman; he had been trying to help with the appraisal of some books signed by Truman Capote that were owned by the Alabama museum where I was working at the time, and I wanted to drop by to put a face with the name.

And now, the passing of another literary landmark, and it seems to have been a depressing event all around. The picture above and the following article are found in today's on-line edition of the New York Times.

Wall-to-Wall Books, and All of Them for the Landlord
by Ethan Wilensky-Lanford

The line outside the Gotham Book Mart in Midtown snaked down the block yesterday morning. Several dozen eager bargain hunters, book dealers, art collectors and former employees of the storied shop waited to bid on a piece of literary history.

They had each put down a $1,000 deposit for the privilege of attending the auction. Books signed by John Updike. Letters from D. H. Lawrence and Ana├»s Nin. Andy Warhol’s wig rack. All were up for sale.


Kristen said...

This is so sad. The loss of the bookstore itself, plus the way the auction went. It seems like no bookstore can survive anymore unless it has a Starbucks' cafe in it. :-(

karen said...

I understand somewhat. I know the sadness.
We had a SMALL B&N in our neighborhood. Very cozy, not the mega ones you see now. It was a sweet gathering place, but I guess we just weren't "enough" and they closed and moved to the more upscale town next to us. It's huge, cold, bright, etc. Not the same. We haven't gone back.
The Gotham Mart looked wonderful.

rdl said...

damn, wish i had gone there on my last visit to NY.

Lone Grasshopper said...

The small bookstores just cannot stay in business without being highly specialized.

People walk in, browse the shelves, find what they like, go home, and buy them at a cheaper price online.

Our town has had 2 bookstores open and then close, each closing in less than two years. The owners tried to stick it out, but people want the lowest price; they aren't willing to pay for the convenience of having a local store and being able to experience the book before buying it.

julieunplugged said...

Reminds me of "You've Got Mail." Sad.

Paula said...

How many of us dream of opening that sort of book shop? It's a fantasy for many, I think. So this is sad on a couple of levels. Not just for this one man but for those of us who dream of being part of such a place.

SusansPlace said...

So sad! I love old bookstores.