Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Demise of Bookstores

My life would not be what it is without the bookstores that I have loved.

I just read another article about the demise of bookstores, and my heart sunk a little deeper. Even though the author is attempting to cast the story in a positive light, the fact is, bookstores are on the seriously endangered list.

In the past few years, here in Los Angeles, I have seen many of my favorite book haunts disappear. A funny thing: as many of you know, I go out and interview people who work in jobs that I think could be endangered (photo processing shops, record stores, video stores, etc). Most people are very helpful and want to be interviewed, to talk about thier business and why it matters.

Earlier this year, I decided I had to interview a bookseller.

I first approached a lady who owned and ran a delightful second-hand bookstore on Santa Monica Blvd. When I first spoke to her, and told her about my project, she opened up in a candid way. She told me her bookstore had been there since 1969 (ancient by Santa Monica standards) and that she had owned it since 1997. Fighting back tears, she said that she had never foreseen a time when bookstores as a species would be fighting for survival. I asked if I could come back and record her thoughts and she said: sure.

Just before our scheduled interview, she called to say that she couldn't do it after all. She said she felt it was wrong of her to align herself with the idea that bookstores were obsolete. I explained that my intention was to help save the species of bookstores by highlighting their plight, but I understood her position.

A few months later (and after three - yes three! - more book sellers had turned down my request for an interview for the same reason), I found myself in a cafe on Santa Monica Blve after viewing the most recent Dardennes brothers' film at the Royal Cinema. As I was drinking my coffee and contemplating the film, my attention was caught by a FOR RENT sign across the street.

Her bookstore was gone.


What had been stacked to the rafters with intrigue and knowledge, was now just a dusty empty shell.

My heart was broken.

I don't know about you, but the bookstores I grew up in were my home and my refuge, a place of constant discovery. A place where the world grew for me.

My heart breaks. Every time a bookstore closes. My heart breaks.

I urge you if you feel as I do - to find the closest bookstore to your home (preferably an independent one) - and to go there and buy a book. Or buy five!

If we want them to survive, we have to take action now. There's no time to waste. They're dying before our eyes. Buy a book, talk to the bookseller. If you want her to be there five years for now, if you want your child to have the joy of discovering literature in their own private and wonderful journey, go to a bookstore today and spend some money.

Otherwise, might be too late.

Monday, October 5, 2009

One More Thing...

Sometime ago, I said I would never write another blog here, and redirected you, my dear reader to my Myspace page.

(I can't believe I even have a Myspace page, that I even know what that is. The shame of trying to be modern...)

Anyway, slowly over time I have come to feel that there is a greater dignity in the format of the old-fashioned blog. And so I return.

Part of the reason for my posting here today is that I have just had the opportunity to watch a movie based on me and my endeavors.

The motion picture is called Obselidia, and some of you may recall my mentioning something of it a couple of years ago. When Ms. Bell, the writer/director of the movie, first approached me, I rather thought it was a joke. Or at least a passing fancy, that would whither on the vine before turning into wine. And yet last night, she showed what she has made.

It is as yet unfinished, but already, to my surprise, just like a real film.

I must confess though, that it is a very strange sensation to see oneself depicted in this manner. Am I so awkward? Am I so strange? Am I so good-looking? Well, I can easily answer the last question, and the answer is no. In fine Hollywood tradition (despite the film being independent), the lead actor, Mr Michael Piccirilli, bears little resemblance to me indeed. He did borrow some of my clothes and my mannerisms, true. Yet, in real life, I confess that I am a little more plain to behold, and I think a little more honest.

And the story itself bears little resemblance to my real life. I confess that I have met a few cinema projectionists along the way, but none called Sophie, and certainly none with whom I have traveled to the desert. Indeed, it is true that I have never been to the desert region known as Death Valley at all.

And yet, I believe there is a charm to the story, and to the liberties taken with my life. For though the plot is a fantasy, perhaps the intention mirrors mine. And what is that intention?

To allow people to see once and for all what we are losing in our mindless quest for progress, and in seeing this, to stop, to know what is worth saving - and to save it. For all generations to come.

And a film with that intention gets my seal approval, even if the character based on my does wear a pair of eye-glasses that I wouldn't consider in a thousand years. I'd rather walk blind.

PS. should you wish to take a look, there is a website for the movie here. Please send me your thoughts on it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Are blogs obsolete?

The question arises, naturally, as I make the choice now to continue these notes on my newly anointed Myspace page.

Haha, George has a Myspace page.  Does that seem like an absurdity?  Perhaps.  But you know, although some people like to imagine that I'm a luddite beyond hope, in truth, I'm more of a luddite with hope.  I don't fear technology (well, some of it I do, as would any sentient being).  But I do fear losing the things that really matter and that give our lives texture and value and meaning.

Anyway, should you be reading this, and should you have read any of my blog so far, and should you, by chance,  have any desire to continue this story...from henceforth you'll find my ruminations at

Blessings to all.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Morse Key and Telegrapher's Paralysis

We think that getting Repetitive Strain Injury from using a mouse all day is a new thing.  Maybe not so.

Mid last century,  there was an affliction known as Telegrapher's Paralysis (also known as Glass Arm).  Like RSI, it was common among telegraph key operators who would frequently be called on to transmit up to 20 words per minute by rapidly pressing the Morse key.

I guess the term "Telegrapher's Paralysis" is obsolete, though it might perhaps be argued that the ailment is not, it's merely caused by a different technology.

In any case, there can be no doubt that morse key and telegraphy is obsolete.  And I don't know about you, but I think it's rather sad that kids today will never know the thrill of receiving a telegram, except by watching old movies.  

My favorite telegram scene is probably in It's a Wonderful Life, right at the end when Sam Wainwright cables to tell George Bailey that he'll cover him the money he needs.  

Would it be the same if it was read from an email?

I doubt it...for a start, you'd lose the "stops" (if you get what I mean), as well as the sense of important urgency.

I mean that was the thing about a telegram - they were only sent at momentous occasions in people's lives: births, deaths, and (in George Bailey's case) bail-outs.  In these days of Twitter it seems we constantly telegraph each other such trivia (hey, I'm watching a TV show!  Eating cornflakes for breakfast!), that the truly important moments are lost in the mix.  If we highlight every word on a page, how will we know which ones really matter?

And I guess that's what a telegram did.  Highlighted the moment - and every word counted.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

a movie about me?

A very strange thing just happened to me today.

I was working, as per usual, at the library, and a woman started telling me about her laptop and how though it was only four years old, it had become obsolete.  She was disgusted about this, angry even, and somehow I ended up telling her about my encyclopedia.

Too sympathetically perhaps because then I discovered:

She's a writer, a kind of strange lady...from Scotland, of all places.  And she now wants to write a movie about me.

Is it a good idea for me to co-operate?  I honestly do not know.  On one hand, it may help my Obselidic endeavour.  I'm sure it would.   As they say, no publicity is bad publicity.  But I feel wary.    I have a feeling she's of the "don't let the truth get in the way of a good story" field of film-making.   Though you know...maybe in this case that would be a good thing.   

After all, what is the blockbuster to date?  A man rants, never raves; he catalogues, writes, collects, and dreams.  It's not exactly popcorn dark knight hoo-ha heaven.  Just day to day life...a sequence of events with no beginning, no middle, no hero and no end.  

Welcome to my life, Diane, my real life.  One may think it romantic, a last stand against the disappearance of everything we think matters.  But it's not.  It's just what I have to do.  Like opening a tin of tuna for my cat.  Not good or bad, not interesting or dull, just what it is.

And if you want to make a movie out of this??  

Good luck.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Protein Called Love

I've been thinking about this a lot recently.  What are feelings?  Can feelings become obsolete?

I know, we're launching into the realm of metaphysical esoterica, but consider it for a moment.  

There is a theory that love is merely an illusionary state, created by an increase in certain proteins in the body, in order to encourage the procreation of the species.  It's like your body creates a mental trance with these proteins so that you won't listen to logic and reason - at least not until the propagation is done.  Then the proteins decrease, and it's "see you in the divorce court".

Given that hypothesis, wouldn't it then be fair to say that if physical contact is no longer necessary for procreation - well, isn't then love obsolete?

Of course, saying love is obsolete would suggest that "love" even existed in the first place,  when in truth what we've been talking about when we say "love" is actually a protein.  So to be precise: the protein called love, that's what's obsolete.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

the kindness of strangers

Since I started this project, something that has amazed me is how much people are willing to help.  Everyday, I phone up all kinds of folk - record store owners, typists, watchmakers, photo-developers - and ask them if I could interview them for the Obselidia.

And unbelievably, they (9 times out of 10) say yes.

I don't know if it's motivated by the desire to help me, or if it's because they too want their work recorded before it's gone.  Maybe it's because no one has ever asked them what they have spent many years of their adult lives engaged in (sometimes not even their own spouse) and they're happy to have the chance to share.

In any case, right here, right now, I just want to thank everyone who's helped me so far.  We're recording the world as it disappears, and I believe future generations will be grateful for this history.

And thanks especially to Sophie, the cinema projectionist, who has promised to share all the secrets of that world with me tomorrow night.

The kindness of strangers is a wondrous thing.  May it never be obsolete...