BEAUTIFUL BOOKSHOPS? NO THANKS!

That’s the title—somewhat overstated, but effective at grabbing the reader’s attention—of a recent Guardian essay by Rick Gekoski. He mentions a post by Sarah Crown presenting the “most beautiful” bookshops she knows, then continues:

Such a shop is intended to offer an experience so thoroughgoing it might be described as organic, in which the environment is as booky as the books, and one is comprehensively immersed in the pleasures of being and reading.
Sounds great, but it doesn’t work for me, as it so obviously does for Sarah and her many enthusiastic commenters. This may be because I am a book dealer, and my demands on a bookshop are often specialised, but I am also an avid reader, and I buy a hell of a lot of books. And the kind of (both beautiful and useful) bookshop that has been described is frequently, in my experience, exactly the sort of place that I am disappointed, and frequently exasperated, by. (Though I find more of these in America, I can think of a good few examples in the UK as well.)
The reason for my unease is that what is so lovingly created in such settings is not a bookshop, but an idea of a bookshop. It is a sentimental idea, a kind of pastoral often untouched by serious commercial consideration. The kind of bookshop you might find in a Beatrix Potter book, with browsing rabbits. Why bother choosing a great stock when you can provide a great environment? “This is such a lovely shop,” customers (not!) will swoon over their cup of tea, “I just adore it here!” But the purpose of a bookshop is not to make its patrons sigh with pleasure, but to make them buy books.

I agree with him; there’s nothing wrong with a pleasant environment, but in practice “it is largely my experience that the more beautiful the shop, the less tempting the books.” Give me dusty, narrow aisles hard to navigate because of apparently random piles of books, and I’m a happy man. I can sit in a comfortable chair when I get back home. (Thanks, Paul!)


Also, Sashura sent me a link to a BBC Radio 4 show called Wordaholics (“Comedy panel game all about words, hosted by Gyles Brandreth”); I haven’t actually managed to listen to it yet, but I pass along the link for those who might be interested.

Comments

  1. Completely with you on this. So many of the cutest little shops I’ve been into have been home to the most disapointing selection of books. Without dipping too deeply into the satisfaction of smear, I have also to moan over the general airheadedness of as many of their proprietors.
    All hail the comfy chair at home!

  2. PeteMcK says:

    I remember the Peter White bookshop near Central station in Sydney. There were piles of stuff everywhere, you had to give yourself a couple of hours for browsing but always came out with a pile of good reads. After the shop was sold, the new owners tidied it up, & were out of business within a couple of years…

  3. Beatrix Potter was more hard-nosed than that, as anyone who’s read “The Tale of Ginger and Pickles” would know.

  4. There’s a whole subgenre of Weird Fiction about attractive book stores.

  5. But there is no money in what is called the “till”.

  6. I don’t know about these guys, but my idea of a ‘beautiful’ bookshop is that musty old Antiquariat packed full of random stuff where you never know what you’re going to find.
    I guess it’s a problem of misplaced aesthetics?

  7. I guess it’s a problem of misplaced aesthetics?
    Bookshops are often prettyfied with a view to attracting a different kind of customer than those who frequented the shops previously. Often the utimate reason for this is to increase sales. The planners might achieve the intermediate goal of attracting a different kind of customer, but unfortunately these new customers may not buy more.
    Recently I described the Cologne train station bookstore Ludwig, which was revamped last year. Little birds have told me that this was done to make it look like the Meyersche bookstore on the Neumarkt, which apparently has a large sales volume. The planners screwed up, though, since (as I happen to know who should not know it) the number of customers in Ludwig has decreased since the revamp.
    Long-term customers like myself are pissed off at the new shelf layout, for instance – a colored porridge of book spines (Buchbrei, I call it) with no recognizable division into sections. There are a few large signs at the top of the shelves saying History, Politics and so on, but below that all is a mystery. Management has forbidden the use of labelled dividers creating easily recognizable sections, because that wouldn’t be pretty.
    I am sorely tempted to write an acidulous letter to management suggesting that they clean up their act.

  8. dearieme says:

    Try Toppings in Ely. We enjoy our cuppa there and never leave without an armful of books. And just around the corner is the Petrou Bros fish-&-chip shop where you can sit, enjoy an excellent lunch, and leaf through your haul.

  9. I dunno. Maybe it’s an X-chromosome thing. I also adore the big dusty places with barely enough room to turn around in the aisles — and a great selection. But I also like a good charming bookshop, meaning a shop with a small selection of books that are well-chosen — ie, the cream of the crop, ie, books I will buy — as well as an assortment of book-related inventory (cards, bookmarks, word games, etc.) I like it when the staff reads and puts up reviews, and when they can give good advice based on other books you like. And I like a chair or two, so I can sit — not squat — and compare several books I’m considering. I know several bookshops like that, and they’ve been in existence for decades. I think the author is conflating the truly charming bookshop with the faux-charming bookshop.

  10. Nothing wrong with charming bookshops, dusty or spic-and-spanny. What I understand the complaint to be about is beautiful bookstores – with the impractical, distant beauty of a national memorial, like Grace Jones or Mount Rushmore.

  11. My ideal bookshop is digital. It makes it possible to buy there any book, current or out of print, at a reasonable price. In my bookshop the writer will have a fair share of the proceeds while the publisher and bookseller will join my turntable at the garbage heap of history. When this new regime of books is in place I will get rid of my books and bookcases, wipe the furniture and buy some nice pictures to hang on the walls.

  12. Yes, I know what you’re talking about, mab, and I agree that such places are nice (and I suspect Gekoski would as well—he does, after all, say “frequently,” not “invariably”); the problem is that they are a distinct minority, and when one sticks one’s head into a charming little bookshop, one is likely to decide that the odds are so heavily against its having “the cream of the crop” (as opposed to the usual boring bestsellers) that it is not worth the trouble of investigating further. A big warehouse-like place with stacks of books and no amenities, however, is almost always worth spending hours in.

  13. It’s a bit like the difference between a meticulously manicured garden and one that revels in its rough-and-readiness. Give me a bit of wild disorder any day (though that also has its limits, appeal-wise).

  14. Well, except that the appeal of the garden is entirely exterior; it’s simply a matter of which you prefer looking at. That’s not at all the case with the bookstores; I might prefer the “beautiful” ones esthetically, but that has nothing to do with why I go to bookstores. If one were looking for a particular variety of insect that were much more likely to be found in a rough-and-ready garden, that would be a good analogy.

  15. Sure, it’s a loose analogy, but people spend time in gardens and bookstores for all sorts of reasons, some of them comparable. I think the appeal of a garden is far from being entirely exterior or aesthetic.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    See, I find referring to a bookstore as a “bookshop” already a little offputting, as implying cuteness, quaintness, tweeness, cuppa-teaness, etc. But that may just be AmEng v. BrEng. In BrEng is there any size limit to a “shop”? Is the massive 8-stories-or-whatever flagship Waterstones in Piccadilly still a “bookshop”? (I have a suit I bought there back in the ’90’s when the building was still Simpson’s department store that means at least as much to me as books I bought there under the subsequent regime.)

  17. It’s an old problem in æsthetics; we claim to not care for beautiful things and to prefer plain, utilitarian things, when actually we’re attracted to the æsthetics of that very plainess. This was a major religious dilemma for Kamo no Chōmei.
    But I understand the correlation that Mr Hat’s drawing (more makeup = less goodies); I have observed it in record stores too. (Yes there still are record stores around here.)

  18. My all-time favorite bookstore was (sadly, the past tense is called for) Dillon’s of Gower Street in London. It had several creaking wooden-floored but carpeted stories of nooks and crannies in which to get lost for hours, and I never left the place without an armful of treasures.
    Waterstones took it over a number of years ago and then closed it, opening a new store at, I believe, Oxford Circus. I’ve yet to visit it.
    Foyle’s, across the street from Dillon’s, carries roughly the same stock. It’s modern and smart-looking in its own way, but hasn’t an ounce of Dillon’s charm.
    A birdie who knows about these things recently whispered in my ear that Barnes and Noble is seeking an elegant way to close its doors. Fighting Jeff Bezos is just too damn hard. Mea culpa, for I’ve found that the used books offered on Amazon are often a tremendous bargain — and they’re only a mouse-click away.
    UPDATE: The Waterstones website says there is indeed a branch where Dillon’s once stood. That page has the company spelling its name as both Waterstones and Waterstone’s. They should be ashamed, very ashamed.

  19. I still have a red dressing gown that I bought in a sale at Simpson’s in the mid-1960s.

  20. Etienne says:

    It isn’t only bookstores: University libraries have also been been under various pressures to “improve their look”, and all too many now look like “hip” modern bookstores, and sell coffee too: but one of the consequences of this is that the old, dusty books (i.e. the ones I need to consult most often, and enjoy reading too) are either buried in storage (meaning that you have to fill out a form in triplicate in order to get your hands on a specific book, twenty-four to forty-eight hours later, assuming they find it of course) or have actually been disposed of (typically after a used-book sale between terms), which to me wholly defeats the whole point of a University library. The fact that I did manage to purchase some classics at dirt-cheap prices at such sales is a bit of a consolation.
    Still, it saddens me that the next generation of University students will never have the pleasure of book-browsing at a University library, running into generations-old books and journals by long-dead scholars whose core assumptions and values would shock them…but would also challenge them, stimulate their imaginations, make them think, and, especially, remind them that much of what is taken for granted today might, a century hence, be recognized for the faddish, superficial nonsense it in fact is.

  21. Bookstore, bookshop… is there really such a difference? To me a bookshop is small.
    But I may also be thinking of The Little Shop Around the Corner, the old b/w movie, which, now that I think of it, I highly recommend.

  22. Paul Ogden: ABEBooks (which Amazon owns) often has better prices on used books, some of them actually new, than Amazon does. It also by default sorts books by total cost (price + shipping); I have often bought books from other countries because the total cost was lower. It’s always worth checking both ABE and your national Amazon.

  23. Wait, wait, wait. Check bookfinder first. Bookfinder will get you the cheapest price for any book, new or secondhand, soft or hardback. It was John Emerson who recommended it to me here, and I’ve never looked back.

  24. In England a bookstore is a chain. What you want is a bookshop.

  25. I can sit in a comfortable chair when I get back home.
    But now you don’t have to wait! See Tony Benn – the next Steve Jobs (but nicer) – demonstrating his folding backpack-chair, outside his house in Holland Park Avenue.

  26. Etienne: Still, it saddens me that the next generation of University students will never have the pleasure of book-browsing at a University library, running into generations-old books and journals by long-dead scholars whose core assumptions and values would shock them…
    How many university students ever actually did that ? I am as shocked as they come, although during the whole 4-5 years I was at UT Austin I was probably at most once in the central library. Students who went there tended to be beavering away at some assignment. I didn’t associate with such.
    I got my shocks off with books that certain other people were reading or thought it worthwhile to give me, or that I picked up on a paperback stand in a drugstore – everything from Nathan Altshiller-Court’s College Geometry: An Introduction to the Modern Geometry of the Triangle and the Circle to the Vita Activa, Naked Lunch, The Concept of Mind, Voltaire, Sydney Smith‘s Sermons at St. Paul’s, Bishop Wilson‘s “Intemperance in talk makes a dreadful havoc in the heart” quoted in Culture and Anarchy (Wilson was bishop of Sodom and Man), Watt …
    That is all still going on, and it always will.

  27. dearieme says:

    In BrEng is there any size limit to a “shop”? None that I’ve ever noticed.
    And I have never in my life used “bookstore”: it’s just an Americanism to me.

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ahem. Sodor. His Grace was Bishop of Sodor and Man, not Sodom and Man . . .

  29. A bookshop with browsing rabbits would be extremely cute, though. I’m thinking it would have a big vegetarian cookbook section.

  30. His Grace was Bishop of Sodor and Man, not Sodom and Man . . .
    There are ways, and there are ways of drawing attention to a worthy writer.

  31. I can think of one particular big dusty bookshop with creaking floors and barely enough room to turn around in the aisles. Half of their stock was impossible to reach without a ladder that was inaccessible to customers. Most of what they had was junk, and what wasn’t was ridiculously over-priced. And if you did find something you were interested in, most of the time the owner would refuse to sell it to you.
    It closed a few years ago, but it was in business for decades. I could never figure out how it managed. I decided that the bookshop must have owned the other shops in the building and survived on their rents. When the bookshop finally closed, they all did, and the whole lot was renovated. (The bookshop owner was old enough to retire at that point.)
    But talk about atmosphere! You could have filmed a Harry Potter movie in there if you’d been able to get the camera in the door.

  32. I can think of one particular big dusty bookshop with creaking floors and barely enough room to turn around in the aisles. Half of their stock was impossible to reach without a ladder that was inaccessible to customers. Most of what they had was junk, and what wasn’t was ridiculously over-priced. And if you did find something you were interested in, most of the time the owner would refuse to sell it to you.
    I know (or knew—I’m pretty sure they’re both gone by now) two NYC bookstores like that! In the first (on the Upper West Side), I took great pleasure in buying a near-incunabulum (1507) for $20 because the evil old proprietress hadn’t noticed the colophon and thought it was just a filthy old book. In the second (in the Village), I won the reluctant respect of the proprietor after hanging around enough and he allowed me to buy a few very interesting books about African languages without ripping me off.

  33. How many university students ever actually did that? I am as shocked as they come, although during the whole 4-5 years I was at UT Austin I was probably at most once in the central library.
    I was in the library quite a bit, groping my way through works on Chaucer I understood only poorly, but even so my greatest regret about my university years is that I didn’t spend more time in the library while I could.

  34. Stu: I for one certainly did, and to me the most liberating aspect of a University education was having unrestricted access to so much arcane and exotic knowledge. I had some fine teachers, but I can say that I learned more about my field (historical linguistics) through reading dusty old volumes (Antoine Meillet, William Elcock, Joseph Vendryes, Albert Dauzat and Edward Sapir among others are scholars I only discovered on my own) than through attending my classes.
    In class we learned the official truth, what needed to be regurgitated come exam time: but reading those “useless” old books I learned what the official truth had once been, and began to see how the truths of today came to be. I began to see all the ambiguities, the difficult issues swept under the carpet, the false leads and dead ends, the clashes, the discoveries, the personal conflicts, the nationalistic passions…it was all so much more interesting than the bland, pasteurized, micro-filtered party line which we were exposed to in class. The diachrony of diachronic linguistics is as fascinating as diachronic linguistics itself, I found.
    But all too many undergraduates today won’t be able to experience this peek behind the curtain, because of this ghastly trend: University libraries are either getting rid of old books or making them much more difficult to consult. This is a shame: as a teacher, I have more than once been frustrated by the fact that bright and curious undergraduates have nowhere to turn to if they, like me when I was their age, want more than what the standard syllabus/textbook offers.

  35. Well, fortunately, due to Google Books (the non-controversial part of it) and the Internet Archive (which is not just the Web archive, it has lots of other stuff too), Project Gutenberg, Hathi Trust and other such organizations, many of those old books are being made available to all, not only to members of universities. And a Good Thing Too.
    Meillet, Vendryes, Dauzat, more Dauzat, one Sapir, a little Sapir, more Sapir, way too much Sapir. Alas, there are too many irrelevant William Elcocks out there.

  36. The question, though, is whether the Google Books and Internet Archive trend will continue in a positive way, eventually resulting in anyone being able to read any book (in exchange for a micropayment or whatever), or whether things will be locked down and restricted further and further until finally the US Congress declares copyright retroactive back to the beginning of time (4,006 BC) and all people suspected of having read a book not of their own writing are rounded up to work in the MPAA nitrate mines. (Or simply assassinated by drones, of course, if they are outside the MPAA’s jurisdiction.)

  37. Etienne: reading those “useless” old books I learned what the official truth had once been, and began to see how the truths of today came to be. I began to see all the ambiguities, the difficult issues swept under the carpet, the false leads and dead ends, the clashes, the discoveries, the personal conflicts, the nationalistic passions…it was all so much more interesting than the bland, pasteurized, micro-filtered party line which we were exposed to in class. The diachrony of diachronic linguistics is as fascinating as diachronic linguistics itself, I found.
    That is so true in many fields – philosophy, sociology and mathematics are the ones in which I experience these shocks: “Why was I not told about this ??” Nowadays I spend three-quarters of my reading time in the 17C to the early 20C.

  38. Interesting about bookstore-bookshop usage.
    Interesting that Mr Crown is now working online, apparently in Russian.

  39. Bathrobe says:

    I still have a red dressing gown that I bought in a sale at Simpson’s in the mid-1960s.
    Hey, I missed that comment!

  40. University libraries have also been been under various pressures to “improve their look”, and all too many now look like “hip” modern bookstores, and sell coffee too
    I’ve also noticed this disturbing trend. What else is a university library for, than to be first and foremost a depository of esoterica? I blame the rampant commercialization and conversion of universities to the corporate model.
    Also, while I’d like to point out that while the centralized University Library here at Cambridge does sell tea and coffee in a designated ‘Tea Room’, to its complete credit the library is certainly not at all user-friendly in any way, shape, or form.
    I can say that I learned more about my field (historical linguistics) through reading dusty old volumes (Antoine Meillet, William Elcock, Joseph Vendryes, Albert Dauzat and Edward Sapir among others are scholars I only discovered on my own) than through attending my classes.
    Ditto. In fact, if it wasn’t for the library, I probably would only have a faint idea that historical linguistics even exists…

  41. Mattitiahu: Y’know, you ought to post a blog or two on “How I Did It”. You have a recent degree in a subject so disfavored that the average age of its scholars is deceased, and in a linguistics community so pig-ignorant of both linguistic history and its own history that recent graduates can actually believe that the resemblances between Spanish and Portuguese are strong evidence for Universal Grammar (m-l’s story, I think, but I’ll steal it). Not so much the personal side as the institutional: how did you find everything you’d need from a university to an advisor? I know you were sheltered under the wing of a Classics Department, but that’s all I do know.

  42. John Cowan and A. J. P. Crown: Thanks for the links to Abe Books and Bookfinder.
    I searched for two books I’d published 30 years ago and found many copies of them on both sites. One, which had a retail price of $5.95, was being offered for between $21 and $45.
    I almost broke even on both of them. Should have studied business or economics and not journalism. Maybe next go-round . . .

  43. I wish you a happy met him pike hoses !

  44. @John: That’s a good suggestion, and I think I will then. Although I will have to put out disclaimers that there are no jobs in it.
    A great deal of it was in having a supervisor for my BA and MA programmes that actually knew something about this stuff and first taught me that it existed as a freestanding discipline. (I knew about things like Dumézil and Benveniste beforehand through some interests in comparative mythology, but I just supposed it was some cranky offshoot of anthropology before I understood more about linguistics…) I still did have to teach a lot of it to myself, but having someone simply tell me that it was there was a huge first step towards getting involved in it further.

  45. Geez Stu, when I went to college hanging out in the stacks was really one of the great pleasures of University life. One element of education I certainly would not have gotten off campus. Of course in those days just having access to, say, novels actually physically printed in the Soviet Union, magazines from the GDR or an old Austro-Hungarian atlas from 1905 felt almost like physically travelling. The internet has probably dminished the thrill of discovery somewhat for contemporary students.
    On top of all that, the library stacks were the number one rendez-vous for illicit assignations. So you didn’t even need an intellectual bent to find them useful.

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps the undergraduate (not-yet-Grumbly?) Stu was not interested in illicit assignations, or perhaps Austin in those days was differently ordered in terms of the propitious locations for that sort of thing.
    It’s been some time since any obstreperous commenters have had to be cast into outer darkness here, but should such a sad eventuality ever arise again, Bishop Wilson’s Form of Excommunication http://anglicanhistory.org/tracts/tract37.html might be well worth examining as a model. (The hotheaded young reactionaries of the Oxford Movement who put out the Tracts for the Times in the 1830’s generally had nothing positive to say about the Church of England during the 1700’s, which they considered an era of latitudinarian torpor and slackness – that they reprinted lots of stuff written by Bp. Wilson means they considered him a noteworthy exception to that general negative evaluation.)

  47. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: the trouble with Google Books (and this isn’t just me grumbling, two students of mine have told me as much) is that there is so much printed material out there that is now available on-line that newcomers to a given field feel utterly overwhelmed, and naturally have enormous problems separating the wheat from the chaff.
    (Parenthetically, the story about the Romance syntax students for whom the intra-Romance similarities could only be due to Universal Grammar because they had no idea Romance languages have a common ancestor is mine, not Marie-Lucie’s: you are of course welcome to use it.)
    By contrast, the beauty of a University library is (well, “was”) that some degree of filtration/selection meant that the amount of printed material found on the shelves on a given specialized topic was reasonable, and of that material only some could serve as an introduction to the field: the filtration/selection process meant that most of it was/had once been of some scholarly value.
    Mattitiahu: “a depository of esoterica”: that sums up the mission of a University library perfectly, if you ask me. And yes, the corporatization of the University is certainly to blame for so many of them moving away from this mission.
    Sometimes this move towards “prettification” yields amusing problems: a University library I know well started selling coffee, tea, muffins and the like on the premisses, and a few months later they had a rat problem, something “no one could have seen coming” (possibly because the books on zoology and animal behavior had been moved to storage in another building, as I pointed out to a colleague. So were the DILBERT cartoons, possibly, which might have given the librarians a bit of a glimpse of corporate management incompetence and cluelessness).
    I believe I am somewhat older than you, but your story sounds a lot like mine. I definitely second John Cowan’s suggestion, and would love to hear more!

  48. Okay, now I want to hear the story of the Romance syntax students who did not know that Romance languages have a common ancestor. (Or is that paragraph pretty much it?)

  49. Matt: there isn’t much more to it: I left the original comment on the thread of “(Mag)pie”, November 22 of last year.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    In my opinion, food and books don’t mix. I don’t like bookstores which do double duty as coffee shops.
    Some years ago I spent a few weeks in Australia and had the opportunity to browse in a large university library. There were signs everywhere about no food allowed, and drinks only in spill-proof containers. In order to emphasize the reason for these prohibitions, the first thing you saw on entering was a large, floor to ceiling glass case (of the kind often found in biology departments to display stuffed birds or skeletons) with displays of library books which had been withdrawn because they had been returned or discovered in various stages of disintegration due to diverse causes, from spilled coffee or ice cream to the depredations wrought by numerous kinds of critters (also displayed as if in the act) attracted by food residues. It was like a close-up of a garbage dump. Gross but effective (one hopes)!
    the story about the Romance syntax students for whom the intra-Romance similarities could only be due to Universal Grammar because they had no idea Romance languages have a common ancestor is mine, not Marie-Lucie’s
    Etienne, indeed I could not recognize the reference when I saw my initials mentioned, although the topic rang a faint bell, probably from the fact that I had read your earlier comment when it appeared. But I am not totally surprised at the students’ ignorance, given that the historical component is given short shrift in many current linguistic textbooks and programs. Yet the historical aspect is what most non-linguists are interested in: “I love languages, especially the origins of words”, is what many students say when asked why they signed up for a linguistics course.

  51. Thanks, Etienne!

  52. What we need to do is to get together as part of an open university of some sort and create a School of Historical Linguistics, with courses taught on the Internet. I’ll do the organizing and maybe teach the introductory course, “How English Got That Way, And Why Most Of What You Think You Know About It And Other Languages Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!” Marie-Lucie can teach the second course, “What You Heard In The First Course Is Mostly Right, But Had Some Oversimplifications”. Mattitiahu can do “How I Did It”, of course, and Etienne can do “Historical Linguistics For Linguists: Why U.G. is N.G.” David Marjanovic can teach “Phylogenetic, Not Phenetic: Revitalizing Linguistics From Biology”. Grumbly will keep us honest by threatening to go on a hunger strike until we Get It Right.
    And Hat will be our Chair, of course, and teach whatever he feels like learning about next.

  53. Bathrobe says:

    I use ‘bookshop’, occasionally ‘bookstore’. But if you are optimising a website to attract visitors, it’s better to use both…

  54. Paul Ogden:
    In fairness, $5.95 in 1982 has the buying power of about $14 today, and something must be allowed (alas that it must be said!) for the rarity of the book.
    Etienne:
    Thanks for the correction. I should probably point out that the “average age is deceased” joke came from an article by Isaac Asimov about his cruise on the S.S. Statendam. He heard it from a stand-up comic who was talking about the passengers on another ship of the same line. (Though for all I know you all took it for sober truth: the more my “knows something about almost everything” reputation grows, the harder it is for me to pull off a flim-flam, since everyone tends to accept what I say as truthful, if occasionally incorrect.)
    Both Google and Hathi are working with university libraries, so at least their scanned books (go to Advanced Book Search and click on “Full text only”) should benefit from those same selection processes. By adding [historical linguistics] to the “with all of the words” box, I got an English translation of Trubetzkoy’s Principles of Phonology and a monograph by Donald Ringe called On calculating the factor of chance in language comparison, both on the first page. This latter should be required reading for all mass-comparisonists; indeed, they should be required to take a test on it and pass it before being allowed to publish anything.
    True, I also got Carlos Quiles’s A Grammar of Modern European, but nobody that G___ G_____ maligns so thoroughly can be all bad. He usually drops his chew toys after a while, but not Quiles.

  55. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: I’m afraid you’ve proven my point for me: none of the titles you’ve given would be suitable for a beginner/newcomer to the field. Water everywhere and nothing to drink, as the saying goes…
    I will admit that I like the concept of an Open University as you sketched it. What does “N.G.”, in the course you would have me teach, stand for exactly? “No good”?
    Marie-Lucie: yes, students are indeed very interested in the historical aspects of language. The problem is that many of them already hold very strong beliefs on the topic, and shattering myths will not help you attract more students: For non-tenured teachers who want to have their contract renewed, this often means being stuck between a hammer and a hard place. The fact that the myths in question are typically shared with faculty members does not help matters.
    Things quickly get worse if the students also have some nationalistic axes to grind: I once knew an undergraduate of Indian origin (my supervisor’s student) who *knew* that the Indo-Aryan languages of India have been spoken there since time immemorial, and nothing I or anyone else said or might say could change his mind on the topic (I had the misfortune of reading/correcting/marking his final essay: it was a painful process, to put it mildly): I’m sure that today, with an internet connection, he could find plenty of “scholarship” out there to support his beliefs.
    As for food and books/journals: actually, I do mix them, but only outdoors: slowly eating a sandwich and sipping tea or coffee while reading something (especially a hard-to-get book or article whose data and findings fit with the conclusions of your own work so perfectly that you realize you are not insane) in a park or on a beach some bright day is one of the nicer pleasures.
    Before going back indoors, just shake the book pages well to get all the crumbs out (the neighboring birds and squirrels will be quite grateful, another plus), drink your tea or coffee from a covered container, and there’s no harm done.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, I was talking about beginning students of linguistics. They think we are going to talk about the origin of words, but in an intro course they find that there is a lot more to linguistics. I have not had the type of negative responses you mention, but my experience with higher level courses such as historical linguistics has been quite limited. A friend who has regularly taught hist ling has not reported such negative comments. The only time I had a problem with a student’s attitude was not in the historical context, but when I said that “speaking in tongues” did not involve actual languages. She thought I was insulting her religion.
    As for books and food, I was not talking about one’s own books, but those available for browsing in stores and libraries. At home, I often drink coffee or tea while reading, but I would not sit down to read holding a sandwich or even a cookie in one hand and a book in the other hand. If the book was so fantastic I could not wait to read it, I would choose the book over the food.

  57. “No good”, precisely. A physicist, whose name I forget, once wrote a squib entitled “The F-G [Feynmann-Gell-Mann] proposal is no F-G.”

  58. AJP: Tony Benn – Steve Jobs ? There are/were both contrarians, but Jobs was a huge success. I’m a bear of little brain – what’s the connection otherwise ?
    I’ll propose Daunt’s in London as a role-model for a bookshop that looks classy but is generally considered to be excellent in stock and staff. But then it is dealing in new books. Secondhand stores where one likes to rummage are a different matter – if you are in London, try Halcyon Books in Greenwich (now the Royal Borough of G) near the railway station. Rummaging guaranteed.

  59. Paul, It was only meant as a joke based on his inventions (see my link). I’m currently reading Ben Pimlott’s really excellent 750-page biography of Harold Wilson, which has made me quite interested in Wilson’s few acolytes. Benn, incidentally, was a very good minister of Technology from 66-70.
    I agree about Daunt. I like that long skylit room with the balcony, and their books aren’t bad. There are some good places to eat around there too.
    What’s become royal about Greenwich? Soon it’ll be easier to list the boroughs that aren’t royal.

  60. David Derbes says:

    Paul Ogden: UPDATE: The Waterstones website says there is indeed a branch where Dillon’s once stood. That page has the company spelling its name as both Waterstones and Waterstone’s. They should be ashamed, very ashamed.
    I was at Dillon’s in the summmer of, I think, 2008 when the change was being made; part of a massive incorporation of nearly all the independent scholarly bookstores into either the Blackstone’s or the Waterstone’s corral.
    Dillon’s, at Gower and Malet, was a couple of blocks from Foyle’s (Charing Cross, very near Oxford St. Foyle’s was closed for many years. The entire area was a mecca for technical students: Foyle’s, Dillon’s (which had the best math and physics outside of Heffer’s in Trinity Street, Cambridge and the original Blackstone’s on the Broad, Oxford) in the UK. The smallest of them was H.K. Lewis which specialized in medical texts, for all the medical students up and down Gower Street. They also had a lending (subscription) library and often sold really obscure books from it for a song. I bought several. The lending library closed in the mid 1970’s, and Lewis itself not much later.

  61. Look at this. It’s another Sarah Crown (no relation) bookshop article, but watch the video.

  62. Thanks, that’s a very nice video. And now I want to visit the bookstore.

  63. Yeah, me too. I loved the model trains and the places to sit, but I didn’t think I’d be disappointed by the books.

  64. NFG was a quick Bad Module Tag.

  65. either the Blackstone’s or the Waterstone’s corral
    Soon to be bought by Blackwater and converted to sell military books exclusively.

  66. Narmitaj says:

    It’s Blackwell’s, rather than Blackstone’s, of Oxford.
    This all takes me back to my first proper post-college job, as a publisher’s rep for Prentice-Hall, in 1982; after six months I moved into London and visited Dillons, HK Lewis and also the Modern Book Company near Paddington (mainly technical books) on a weekly basis (and also Blackwell’s in Oxford, once a month).
    Foyle’s required visiting a couple of times a week; it was a huge but messy bookshop with archaic methods of buying and selling and largely non-existent stock control; reps like me had to stock-check our own lists, and we did no returns there. I remember one set of dusty volumes (not ours) that must have been sitting on the shelf for 12 years or more as they were priced in £.s.d. and decimalisation had come in in 1971 (and this was normal stock, not in the second-hand department). Things have changed since but back then people liked to visit Foyle’s because of the chance of a lot of browsing serendipity, so in that respect it was a very large small shop.
    HK Lewis was old-fashioned in a different way, and had a Dickensian feel, or at least a 1940s institutional feel. On cold winter’s mornings the elderly buyer, sitting next to his iron radiator, might doze off while consulting his wooden file drawers and my catalogues and book samples.
    Dillons was far more modern and staffed largely with people my own age, and I used to go drinking with them in ULU, the University of London (Students’) Union across the road, on Friday lunchtimes. Eventually I lived with one of them, and we even bought a house together (moving in on Live Aid Day, 1985).
    The shop itself, now Waterstones, is still there, though in my day I think it was addressed 1, Malet Street and not 82, Gower Street; I guess Gower Street is better known for people like Darwin living on it.

  67. Things have changed since but back then people liked to visit Foyle’s because of the chance of a lot of browsing serendipity, so in that respect it was a very large small shop.
    Yes, that was what it was like when I made my pilgrimage in the early ’70s; I also took a trip to Oxford, mainly to visit Blackwell’s. (On my return to London I somehow missed a connection or caught the wrong train, at any rate I found myself heading for Brighton and panicked. The helpful and unflappable train personnel got me headed the right way in a cheerful fashion that made me think well of England.)

  68. In case there’s anyone else who didn’t realize, the George Whitman documentary, Portrait Of A Bookstore As An Old Man is online.

  69. Thanks, M. A lovely film. I cut my own hair, but not like that.

  70. EN LA SALA DE LECTURAS DEL INFIERNO
    En la sala de lecturas del Infierno   En el club
    de aficionados a la ciencia-ficción
    En los patios escarchados   En los dormitorios de tránsito
    En los caminos de hielo   Cuando ya todo parece más claro
    y cada instante es mejor y menos importante
    Con un cigarrillo en la boca y con miedo   A veces
    los ojos verdes   Y 26 años   Un servidor
    – Bolaño
    With spacing ruined by the text formatting. 🙁

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