The place was chaos. As I crisscrossed around signs and crowds of mostly young white folk pushing baby strollers, I had one of those dizzying moments when you feel like you are witnessing history. Would those sleeping toddlers even grow up to read a book—bound in print and made with paper, or would everything go electronic?
I walked directly to the LITERATURE section, a paltry set of columns with only the most obvious blockbusters and moldy canon authors available (20 copies of each taking up precious space) when the chain thrived. I got further depressed seeing that nobody was tending the shelves, and I found recipe and comic books messily misshelved: weeds had overtaken the garden.
“Did you find everything okay?” the cashier asked me, an automatic response, not a question. (I had never seen such a long line or as many cashiers at the ready, all five of the registers, open.)
“No, actually,” I looked behind me at the loud crowd waiting in line. “The computers aren’t running and I couldn’t find Simone DeBeauvoir alphabetically.”
“Who?” the young girl asked nervously.
I paused. “Simone DeBeauvoir?”
My cashier looked at the cashier next to her, perhaps a more studious type. “Who?” the new girl ventured. “And, what did she write?”
The chills went to my head as I felt the world spinning. (I was an unknown author who might never be read, but already the new world—none of this next generation of bookstore workers, who were surrounded by the written word and fielded calls on authors and novels day in and out—had heard of Simone DeBeauvoir.) “Uhm, she was lovers with John Paul-Sartre? You know, existentialism?”
Nothing. And, nothing again.
“And, feminism. She wrote The Second Sex, which is one of the feminist manifestos? But, I checked the philosophy shelf too. I’m really looking for her fiction, two titles. . .”
Blank stares, and then the more senior girl looked away to save face. The topic died.
“Never mind,” I said, paying for the two deals I had found, trying not to trip on the games and cooking, yoga, and knitting kits for sale. Perhaps if the corporation had had a smaller coffee & snack bar, dedicating less space to DVDs and music—and cut out the extraneous candles, aromatherapy eye masks, and magnets—to put in a better selection of books, then maybe they’d still be in business. I wished I believed it. “I’ll just order them online.”