The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
The poster found often in the shop window did for a few golden days go viral and rampant on the internet. Its tale is told here by Dan Holloway in The Guardian. People speak sometimes of the ‘shop’ has having gone viral, but ‘it’ didn’t. Rather a photo of a poster that hangs in the window went viral which is a fundamental philosophical difference: the real world doesn’t go viral. People ask for this poster and I refuse to give it away. It is included as a found poem in an anthology that the shop produced a few years ago, The Sounds of Surprise, and that costs £5!
The poster is a variation of a fairly well known printer’s hype on their trade, written by the formidable Beatrice Ward in 1932. My variant could be portrayed as a stance against the digital onslaught, but I am not convinced personally that there is a digital onslaught. Books will sit happily side by side, snug and alert, next to the Kindle for a few centuries more. It is social media that I see as being the true enemy of the book: Facebook, Twitter and their spawn have provided a rival vehicle in which we invest our aspiration – aspiration being how we see ourselves and how we wish to see ourselves (the two needn’t be the same). All our status entries or posts or blogs or whatever are pure gobbets of flesh, cut from who we are, curated carefully, as much to show ourselves off to others as to serve as a mirror for our own pirouettes and preening, the sort of stuff we do if lucky enough to go out on a date – combing hair, sporting clean hankies, polishing shoes. Social media has allowed us, unwittingly perhaps, to divest any notion of aspiration away from the book: they once sat on our shelves, even unread, bound mirrors of who we wished to be. And aspiration is a most important self-administered attribute that gives us the space to function properly as human beings.
To place the poster in my window was in truth more a cynical act and its rationale was that it would be blogged, Tweeted and photographed to death, which it is. I did think when I first hung it up that I’d be laughed out of business; surprisingly people take it seriously. The subtext of the sign is, of course, “Stop taking a photo of an experience you won’t have: instead buy a book (and make me rich).”