Tuesday, May 7, 2013


A recent trip to Vancouver’s Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium left me disheartened. The “Book” in the store’s name might as well have been blacked out. The meagre selection appeared disorganized, an afterthought to the PFLAG souvenirs and kink memorabilia that overtook most of the floor area.

I suppose I should be relieved that Little Sister’s still exists as a physical space. Good on Vancouver for keeping a gay bookstore open when similar establishments in big cities have already shut down. It saddens me to walk down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and no longer have A Different Light to pop into. Pronounced dead: March 2009.

Its San Francisco location on Castro held on until 2011.

The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York City’s Greenwich Village expired in 2009.

Washington, D.C.’s Lambda Rising closed in 2010.

Part of the downfall can be attributed to the rise of big box stores that lured savvy shoppers in with 30% off new releases and fancy home decor pillows. (Just books?! Don’t be mad!) As an avid Meg Ryan fan (before she became a slave to Botox), I am reminded of the movie “You’ve Got Mail” in which sweet Meg’s Shop Around the Corner is done in by the latest big box installation of Fox Books, the chain’s territorial desires humanized by the always affable Tom Hanks. Poor Meg doesn’t stand a
chance. Heck, she even falls in love with The Enemy. Damn you, Fox Books. Damn you, Tom Hanks. (Disclaimer: Peter Scolari forced me to write the preceding sentence. Don’t hate me, America.)

But the bookselling scene has become more complicated and, yes, bleaker since 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail”. Whenever I stumble on the movie while flipping channels, I stop and linger, viewing it as a time capsule as much as I cherish it as one of Dear Meg’s final cutesy performances. I chuckle at the state of technology as I hear that prehistoric dial-up modem and I see the primitive blinking cursor and simple Internet screen.

So much has changed so fast. The internet is now so omnipresent that is has lost its capital letter, no longer a proper noun. Despite the considerable shipping costs—I tried to buy a $17 book online last week, but canceled when the final tab included $23 in shipping—ordering books or downloading them has changed the marketplace.

I have no doubt that internet accessibility has allowed people in remote areas and questioning teens to download gay literature and nonfiction that they may never have gotten their hands on. Hurrah. Still, it is a significant loss to see gay bookstores shutter their doors. A bookstore, particularly an independently owned one with knowledgeable staff, can be a gathering place for readers seeking to connect with The Next Great Read and to engage in face-to-face conversation about recent picks and pans.

Maybe I’m too nostalgic, but I cherish the times I ventured into West Hollywood’s A Different Light bookstore in broad daylight, risking being outed to...well, other gay men. (I feared so much then. Given a recent post, I may not have made much progress in the past two decades.) I checked out other men while paging through possible purchases. I wouldn’t call it cruising as my bashful demeanor rarely if ever conveyed any true sense of interest. Still, I hoped for any glimmer of interest. After all, Sally reconnected with Harry in a bookstore. (Yes, I have too many Meg Ryan references in my life.) Even though love never blossomed amid the book stacks, it was thrilling to be in a literate setting where “my type” of books filled the entire store, instead of being relegated to a shelf between Psychology and Self-Help. (By the way, there are no self-help books for Meg Ryan obsessives. I’ve looked.)

As LGBT members make gains in being accepted in society, some may say that gay bookstores are obsolete even if technological advances did not occur. Why segregate? Haven’t we earned our spot in the mainstream? I understand the thinking, but I can’t shake that jingle from “Cheers”: “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” If not my name, then at least a place where I completely fit in. (And just to complete the “Cheers” line of thought, that never was the case in gay bars.) Gay bookstores were always about more than just books. Sadly, the more has become leather thongs and temporary rainbow tattoos.

Progress? I wonder.


canoetoo said...

During the late 1970s and 1980s, I regularly visited Glad Day Books in Toronto. After coming out in the mid-70s, I read many, many books by gay authors (mostly fiction). While many books I bought over the years have been given away or sold to make room for the new, I still have many of those books I purchased at Glad Day Books.

I was never all that comfortable in bars but Glad Day was a welcoming place where you could pick up a copy of the Body Politic, check the bulletin board for what was going on around town and check out what was on the new books display.

Some of the authors I 'met' back then are no longer with us. Some I continue to follow. How I long for something new by Andrew Holleran. His "The Beauty of Men" struck such a chord of longing and melancholy for me that I still go back and read parts of it.

The internet has changed all that. Now when I come across a mention of a book that I might like to read I add it to my Amazon wishlist for future reference and possible purchase. Nothing remains the same, I guess. Sorry to hear about Little Sisters. It was always somewhere I would visit during infrequent trips to Vancouver.

Rural Gay said...

As always, thanks for posting a comment, CT. I am familiar with the title you mention and it may even be in a box of To-Read books in my basement. (So many boxes to search through! I've been known to mistakenly buy books I already have.)

I've always liked the notion of books bringing people together. For the LGBT community, I feel that is particularly important. Sadly, our modern conveniences are taking away some treasured opportunities.

While this blog is yet another online creation, I am planning to host a monthly gay book club whereby one "classic" gay book is the month's focus. I'll reread (or read for the first time) a book, post my comments during the month and encourage others to join the discussion. I expect that most of the books may be checked out from local libraries to allow greater access for readers.

If we can't have face-to-face conversations about literary works, I suppose internet connections are the next best thing.

I should be posting the book list in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!