Let’s put a bookstore in every mall
To magnify the ridiculousness of what has become Black Friday, The Stranger, one of Seattle’s few remaining papers that publishes with any integrity, produced a whole issue that originated in a mall.
Setting up shop 17 miles outside of Seattle at the Alderwood Mall they went to work. It started this way:
It’s easy to feel superior in a shopping mall, as anyone who lives in a city should know by now. But easy ironies no longer offer cheap thrills, and capitalism is in exactly no danger of being replaced or overthrown. Shopping malls have been a major cultural reality for more than 30 years, enshrining behaviors and appetites that are anathema to many thinking, feeling urbanites. But they also offer the purest possible indulgence in the visceral pleasure principle that attends consumption. They are a direct connection to the uniquely American idea of participation through purchase—a principle that has poisoned our political discourse and eroded our conception of democracy. They are tacky. They are fucked. And, at least this weekend, they are very, very crowded.
Can anyone guess the one thing that is missing from almost all of these temples of indulgence?
As Paul Constant points out in his piece Bookstores Have Left the Building, once Waldenbooks bit the dust with the demise of Borders, book life was sucked out of the mall. Not that Walden Books was even close to what is needed in a mall environment but it was something. Walking around the mall ” despondent” Constant notes “Visually, the closest things to a bookstore are the calendar kiosks spread around the mall, particularly the desk calendars that have “pages” with “writing” on them.” And then this “Hands down, the best bookstore in Alderwood is Urban Outfitters in Zone E. It doesn’t carry enough titles to warrant alphabetization—instead, the books are spread on the top of one large table near the cash registers.”
A complete disgrace.
But perhaps there is a way out of this cultural vacuum.
There cannot be a more appropriate setting than a mall for a bookstore, a beacon of light in a place that promotes and tinkers with our darkest vulnerabilities. Most malls are built in places just outside the urban, for where else can you find lots of land cheap, and in communities that already face a host of low information challenges.
Imagine your kids wanting to go to the mall for a reading, a workshop, or a book art exhibit instead of just to hang out. Imagine having Poets in the Malls like we have Poets in the Schools. Imagine going to the mall to pick up a pair of shoes then going to a letterpress printing class. Or a great place for your book club to meet and then see the movie that was made from the book you’re reading. The possibilities are endless.
Here is what we propose:
That every state, city, municipality enact legislation that mandate every mall development to include subsidized space for a literary center. Much like you can’t build a new apartment building in many places without offering a percentage of units to the less fortunate.
The larger the mall the larger the space dedicated to the literary.
And what about all the existing malls with the millions of square feet of empty space?
Let’s explore public/private partnerships where we can put the space to good book use while devising creative ways to compensate the landlords based on government subsidies and the revenue generated from the space.
Same goes for outlet malls for god knows there are enough remainders floating around to keep those stocked until the cows come home.
With concessions from the mall developers, help from the government, and the inclusion of the local, regional or statewide bookish organizations we can provide all our citizenry with access to one of our culture’s biggest assets, books.
It is possible and if we truly want to do what is best for our communities then it is essential.
Need to tip my hat here to James Patterson and his #SaveOurBooks campaign. His passion and determination have contributed greatly to my efforts here.
Now let’s get to work.