by Pat Holt

Friday, January 15, 1999



Prize-winning poet Adrienne Rich likes to "buy the (news)papers, look over the new books, check the bargain counters, talk with the owners and staff" at the Capitola Book Cafe "about four days a week," she writes to her local newspaper, the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel. When Rich learned that a proposed 25,000-square-foot Borders store, if approved by planning commission and city council members next month, would threaten the Book Cafe and other bookstores in the area, she fired off a letter in support of independents.

It's awfully risky to tee off the chains when you're a writer, but Rich's comments, along with those of Barbara Kingsolver (see Tuesday's column), will go a long way to educate all of us as to the true nature of "the bookstore wars." Here are some excerpts: "[Independent bookstores] are owned and shaped by a variety of diverse individuals who know and love books. Their appeal is precisely that they are individualistic, scattered around the country and found in a mix of other small local businesses . . .

"The attempted malling of our . . . towns, the destruction of their liveability and character, the wipe-out, by hugely capitalized chains, of small local enterprises . . . isn't 'competition.' This is unbridled, unrestricted financial power against every other human consideration.

"As a reader and book-buyer, I want the varied book culture that our local bookstores provide. As a writer, I'm revolted by the policies of the chains (selling prime space to publishers who are willing or able to pay for it; dictating to publishers what titles will or won't be 'marketable' even before publication). I want to see in my local bookstore a range of choices, not dictated by corporate deals.

"In chain-marketing, a store can open in a community that has been studied and targeted, thanks to the success of local business owners, and can mirror the attractions of local efforts. But once having destroyed its competition, secured its captive purchasers, the chain store is simply part of a huge mass-market enterprise, which can merge at any time with other unrelated enterprises, and which NEED NOT BE RESPONSIVE TO LOCAL VALUES, CONCERNS, OR EMPLOYMENT, EVER AGAIN."

The upper-case letters are Rich's emphasis (in the original she underlines the words), and what a heroic emphasis it is.