Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I’m a book guy. I like turning the pages, checking my progress as my bookmark creeps toward the halfway point and wondering what I did to create an orange splotch in the otherwise crisp white margin on page 143. (I swore off Cheetos years ago after my nephew couldn’t help licking the residue off each finger before fetching more from deep inside the bag.)

I have friends who swear by Kindles, Nooks and other techie reading gadgets. “So good for travel,” they all say. Funny how I can’t remember the last time any of them ventured beyond the international food aisle at Safeway.

I know that I’m unlikely to reread the finished books that sit like trophies on my crammed bookshelves. And all I can do is pick up and recycle abandoned plastic bottles discarded in gutters as penance for the fact I am contributing to the elimination of forests of trees that sacrifice their lives so I can hold my beloved tomes.

Logically, I realize I should change my ways. I am sure I could adjust to more hours spent gazing at a screen. Maybe I’d even look good in glasses.

But I don’t want to change.

I like my books, dammit. I like holding them, I like the simple acts of opening and closing them. I like glancing at familiar spines and forgetting most of the plot but recalling varying feelings of satisfaction (and author envy) from each reading experience.

I love wandering into a bookstore, seeking out the one title I’d gone in for and walking out forty-five minutes later with an armload of new reads. Every book shop visit is a treasure hunt and I invariably find a nugget or two of gold. Typically, the book I’d originally sought gets bumped down my reading list as a new Must-Read takes priority.

A week ago, I made a rare appearance on Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End, a gay hub of old that is losing its signs of Pride. In an era of greater acceptance of LGBT people and in a time of rising housing costs, the gays are leaving Vancouver’s gay ghetto and settling in the suburbs. (There is word that one unfortunate fellow even moved to an outlying area, accessible only by ferry.  The fool!)

I had a few minutes to kill so I wandered into Little Sister’s Bookstore aka Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, a LGBT bookstore. I wanted to pick up something new in YA gay fiction, a compelling memoir and perhaps a collection of humorous essays. (Surely David Sedaris doesn’t have a monopoly on the market.)

Little Sister’s has long been a business that has struggled to survive. When I first moved to Vancouver, the store filled the upper floor of a dilapidated wooden structure and relied on donations to help pay legal fees arising from censorship battles. Its move to a new space a decade ago with the large uncluttered, well stocked book collection was a sign that it would endure, even thrive. I remember stopping in during its opening weekend and feeling proud that this was a pillar of the gay community, a worthy hub instead of the bars.  

Little Sister’s 2013 looks a lot different. When I walked in, I immediately turned right in order to head to the spacious book section with the beautiful wooden shelves. I was shocked to see plastic hangers with dangling rainbow thongs, glittery kites, sex toys and a large greeting card section. Little Sister’s has always carried this merchandise but not to this scale. And not in the amazing book section.

I pivoted and reoriented myself. Ah, books! They were in the area that used to be a porn magazine or video section—I don’t fully remember as I was always too embarrassed to venture there, a lingering side effect of a reserved upbringing in which “Charlie’s Angels” was too racy.

I wandered over and dutifully surveyed the selection, a sparse mix of new and used books on shabby shelves.  The books in Little Sister’s Bookstore seemed like an afterthought. I shudder when I think of the logic: Well, no one buys cellophane-wrapped magazines anymore with free porn on the internet. Maybe we could unload a few books here. It was probably a sound business decision to relegate books to the back section, away from the windows, away from natural light, away from the natural foot traffic flow of the store. Apparently, lube, thongs and flags are the bigger sellers.

The book nook had a few general headings—Gay Books, Lesbian Books—but the collection seemed no more diverse or in depth than what one might find at any mid-sized urban bookstore (assuming that a few still exist).

I purchased nothing. The shock proved too much. I desperately wanted to support Little Sister’s in hopes that my single book purchase would be just what was needed to spur a book renaissance. Unfortunately, I could not find a promising new piece of YA fiction, an intriguing essay collection or a prized, unexpected nugget. While rainbow flags adorned other parts of the store, the book area might as well have been marked with a white flag.

Book days are over.

And I am in mourning.


Jack A. Urquhart said...

I feel much the same as you about the slow devolution of LGBT bookstores. Couldn’t believe it when I read online that my old stomping ground in San Francisco, “A Different Light Books” closed in 2011. As for paper-and-print v. e-books (and their various devices), I have both – the former by the ton. But as much as I love my hard and soft bound books, as much as I can’t bear the thought of parting with them, I have to tell you that the expense of moving them across the country at sixty-cents a pound has done much to increase my affection for electronic publications.

Rural Gay said...

Hi Jack,
As always, thank you for the tweets and for your comment here.

Books are the easiest boxes for me to pack whenever I move--and I've moved seventeen times since I left home. Only a couple of moves covered great distances though. The next might be a big one. I'll have to do some gifting of some books. It would be cost prohibitive to have one moving van just for my past reads!

Brad Gould said...

I agree with you, I am resisting the age of the e-reader. I have loved books since I was a child. I live three hours drive away from the nearest major city, so for bookstores there isn't much, but even with Amazon, one of my favourite authors' newest book has come out, for e-reader... they are saying the print edition will be out in the fall.

As for culling books, I've been shedding things for years, but books have always been the hardest to let go of. My plan is to build another wing onto the house when the books take over... lol

Rural Gay said...

Hi Brad,
Odd that print now follows e-readers (if it follows at all).

Build that addition! Your books deserve it.