Allison Arieff has written a very nice profile of William Stout and his San Francisco shop in the NYTimes. Stout’s shop sells architecture and design books – new, used and rare – and was one of the shops we used as a model when planning Rabelais. Through specialization, and integration of in and out-of-print books, Stout offers a selection which the Amazons of this world cannot match. Not to mention the expertise to back it up. The proximity of the very rare and today’s books (not everything in the field – just the good ones), also serves to emphasize the link between the great works of the past, here in concrete form, and the books which may serve to shape our future.
Like so many others writing about books these days, Arieff faceplants on the sidewalk by turning the article into yet another elegy for the bookshop. I’m hoping that next year’s MLA conference will offer several papers on this new literary form – the elegy for the not-yet-dead (think of the plague ridden medieval peasant in The Holy Grail, obviously ailing but declaring “I’m not dead” until he’s clobbered on the head to finish him off).
I see nowhere in the article any mention that Stout’s shop is teetering on the brink, so why introduce the bittersweet note? Why not write about how his shop offers something undeniably superior to the hollow experience of Amazon? Or how maybe his shop is a model of how old fashioned, high quality hand selling still exists? Instead journalists stand to the side and shrug, like the photographers on a nature show, as the baby ducks are swallowed by the fox. “There’s nothing we can do. It’s nature’s way.” But there is something we can do, and it’s so simple.
So Allison, you spent time listening to Stout, and you even wrote about him, but did you buy a book?