by Jorge Carrion
translated by Peter Bush
(Maclehouse Press, 2013)
The way a specific story relates to the whole of literature is similar to the way a single bookshop relates to every bookshop.
You create books solely to forge links with others even after your own death, thus defending yourself against the inexorable adversary of all life, transience and oblivion.
Every bookshop is a condensed version of the world.
The history of bookshops is completely unlike the history of libraries. The former lack continuity and institutional support. As private entrepreneurial responses to a public need they enjoy a degree of freedom, but by the same token they are not studied, rarely appear in tourist guides and are never the subject of doctoral theses until time deals them a final blow and they enter the realm of myths.
The history of libraries can be told in minute detail, ordered by cities, regions and nations, respecting the frontiers that are sealed by international treaties and drawing on specialised bibliographies and individual library archives that fully document the development of stocks and cataloguing techniques and house minute-books, contracts, press cuttings, acquisition lists and other papers, the raw material for a chronicle backed by statistics, reports and timelines. The history of bookshops, on the other hand, can only be written after recourse to photograph and postcard albums, a situationist mapping, short-lived links between shops that have vanished and those that still exist, together with a range of literary fragments and essays.
Every bookshop is an invitation to travel, and itself represents a journey.
Travel bookshops throughout the world are also stores that sell practical travel items.
For a Western readers the East begins where unknown alphabets start to be used: Sarajevo, Belgrade and Athens.
The centrality of ancient Greek culture, philosophy and literature can only be understood if one considers its position stride the Mediterranean and Asia, between the Etruscans, and Persians, opposite the Libyans, Egyptians or Phoenicians.
Any library is more than a building: it is a bibliographical collection.
The present Library of Alexandria is a far cry from the original: although its architecture is spectacular, although it converses with the nearby sea and 120 alphabets are inscribed on its reflective surface, although tourists will come from all over the world to gaze at it, its walls do not yet contain sufficient volumes for it to be the reincarnation of the building that lends it its mythical name.
The Library cannot exist without the bookshop that has in turn been linked from the outset to the publishing house. The book trade had already developed before the fifth century B.C.
The first publishing houses comprised groups of copyists on whose ability to concentrate, to be disciplined and rigorous and on whose degree of exploitation depended the number if changes and mistakes in the copies that would eventually be put into circulation. To optimise time, someone dictated and the rest transcribed and thus Roman publishers were able to launch onto the market several hundred copies simultaneously.
The first Greek and Roman bookshops were either itinerant stalls or huts where books wwere sold or rented out (a kind of mobile library) or spaces adjacent to the publishers.
Private collections, often in the hands of bibliophiles, were directly fed by bookshops and were a model for public collections, namely libraries, which sprang up in tyrannies, not democracies.
Libraries are power.
The Library of Alexandria was seemingly inspired by Aristotle’s private library and was probably the first in history to have a cataloguing system.
If history ensures the continuity of the Library, the future constantly threatens the existence of the Bookshop.
The Bookshop is liquid, provisional, lasts as long as its ability to sustain an idea over time with minimal changes. The library is stability. The Bookshop distributes: the Library preserves.
The Bookshop is in perpetual crisis.
The figure of Homer is located in the two centuries prior to the consolidation of the bookselling business and his centrality to the Western canon is directly related to the fact that he is one of the Greek writers of whose work we have preserved the most fragments. That is, he was one of the most copied.
There are few metaphors as powerful as that of the palimpsest to represent the way culture is transmitted.
Universities, publishing houses, cultural centres and the most compact part of the souk of bookshops … these institutions feed on each other.
Touching old books is one of the few tactile experiences that can connect you to a distant past.
Manuscripts prevailed over printed books in the first years of printing, by virtue of a veneer of prestige, as was the case with papyrus over parchment, or in the 1960s with handmade over ones that were machine set. In the beginning the printer was the publisher.
Binding didn’t become standard in Europe until the requisite machines began to function around 1823, when bookshops slowly began to look like libraries, because they offered finished products and not half-made books.
We tend to think of literature as an abstraction when the truth is that it is an infinite network of objects, bodies, materials and spaces.
Although he does not intervene directly in the creation of the object, the bookseller can be understood as the craftsman reader, that person who after the 10,000 hours that according to various studies are necessary to become expert in a practical skill is able to combine work with excellence, manufacture with poetry.
Dust is a vitally important issue for a bookseller. He dusts up and down and clockwise in the first half-hour every morning. While doing so, the bookseller memorises where the books are and gets to know them physically.
Readers, like carpenters, are different in each locality.
A bookshop can regenerate the social and economic fabric of an area, because it is the present pure and simple, and a speedy engine of change. That is why we should not be surprised if many bookshops are part of greater social projects for change.
We read as much with our hands as with our eyes.
From the time of ancient Rome, bookshops have been spaces for establishing contact.
The bookshop itself, with or without buyers or browsers, has its own cardiac rhythms.
Bookshelves also enjoy a relationship of conflict with the premises that lodge and partially define them, but do not constitute them.