SHARP 2023-BRN Panel: The Bookshop as Interface

Bookshops operate as more than just spaces where the commercial retail of books occurs.  They are places of ideas, which encourage us to venture beyond our own experiences and expand imaginative and intellectual horizons.  Indeed, as Martin Latham has claimed, bookshops do this even more successfully than universities: “it seems, indeed, such institutionalized thinking is less likely to be mould-breaking; whereas a bookshop, used open-mindedly enough, uniquely challenges the normative thinking which dulls our reason and clouds our souls (The Bookseller’s Tale, p. 305). This panel looks at some ways the interface of the bookshop has fostered, or is fostering, new ideas, whether in fictionalised accounts of bookshops or histories of actual ones. 

Chambers 2023 SHARP presentation
Muse 2023 SHARP

Affordances of the Doubly Constructed Bookshop

Eben Muse, Bangor University

Geiryn’s definition of place as “doubly constructed”, both built and “interpreted, narrated, perceived, felt, understood or imagined”, is echoed in the virtual game design framework developed by Hunicke, LeBlanc, & Zubek. Their framework defines virtual places as composed of “mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics”. In this framework, the game designer builds mechanics that provide an interface into the game world. That interface encourages certain dynamics of behaviour and values. Players develop an aesthetic understanding of the place through engagement with that dynamic. Thus MDA, like Geiryn, defines place as co-created by the designer and the player—place is a doubly constructed emergent property of the space. This paper will use the MDA framework to apply virtual design thinking to the brick-and-mortar place of the bookstore. The bookstore becomes an interface created by a designer to provide a dynamic experience of a variety of worlds—including those of the books and of the social community of the shop.

Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M., & Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A formal approach to game design and game research. Proceedings of the AAAI Workshop on Challenges in Game AI, 04–04.

Gieryn, T. F. (2000). A Space for Place in Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 463–496.

The Afterlives of Bookshops: The Cultural Memory of Modernism in the Book Trade

Matthew Chambers, University of Reading

Shakespeare and Company, perhaps the best-known bookshop in the world, heavily trades in its history, and in particular, its modernist forebear run by Sylvia Beach. Evoking the Lost Generation in Paris, the modern-day incarnation harkens to a cultural memory of the past to generate an affective association between a literary world and bookish consumption. While Shakespeare and Company is the most prominent example, it is by no means the only establishment to build such connections: e.g. City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and The Beats, The Strand in New York City on Book Row, and Foyle’s in London claiming to have originated author events. We can also find recollections of bookshop spaces mined for memoirs and works of fiction. Using two recent examples of the latter in particular – Mary Gibson’s The Bermondsey Bookshop (2020) and Kerri Maher’s The Paris Bookseller (2022) – I will discuss how the memory of modernism is staged within contemporary works of fiction, and by extension, how our nostalgia for such literary periods is capitalized upon – in the selling of individual titles such as these, as well as for the marketing of a business such as the current Shakespeare and Company. In taking this approach, I will consider recent scholarship such as Jessica Pressman’s Bookishness (2020) and Eben Muse’s Fantasies of the Bookstore (2022) to discuss the bookshop as an interface between our experience of a physical location and a bookish cultural memory which frames that experience before we cross the threshold.

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