Update: Middlemen: Booskshops and 20th-century literature - edited collection - January 15 2010

full name / name of organization: 
Huw Osborne
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Robert Darnton refers to bookstore owners as the "forgotten middlemen of literature" who illustrate "the character of publishing as an activity" involved in "the transactions that brought into being a small amount of literature from the nebulous vastness of the literature that might have been," always operating in the shop, that "crucial area where supply [meets] demand." Twentieth-century bookstores are, in Lawrence Rainey's words, essential "institutions of modernism" that are inseparable from "a body of institutions, a corpus of collecting, marketing, and discursive practices that constituted a composite social space." The owners of these bookstores sit at the hubs of networks of buyers, sellers, collectors, writers, publishers, printers, editors, and reviewers, intimately connected to the entire field of literary production. This book proposes to provide a complete picture of the ways in which bookstores and their owners have contributed to the making of modern literature and the shaping of book cultures. It is interested in the special characters of bookstore owners and in how these owners' aesthetic, political, and economic commitments influenced the writers drawn to them and the books produced by them. It is interested in the physical books and magazines produced from within bookstores and outside the mainstream publishing houses and how the bibliographic codes of these books and magazines reconnect us to the social and historical immediacy of texts. It is interested in the symbolic and social spaces of bookstores and how these spaces define relationships between books, consumers, businesspersons, and writers. Overall, it is interested in bookstores as dynamic and complex contributors of twentieth-century literary culture and production across a range of institutional functions.

This call for papers seeks essays focused on some of the most prominent bookstores of the twentieth century, including, but not limited to the following:

Gotham Book Mart
The Sunwise Turn
Shakespeare and Company
The Poetry Bookshop
Bertram Rota
Pino Orioli
The Progressive Bookshop
The Bomb Shop
City Lights
The Hampshire Bookshop

This book has a contemporary significance as well. As Laura Miller points out in Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, the independent bookstore is a dying institution in contemporary cultural life. The rise of book chains and online bookstores has led to the rationalization of the book within commodity culture. The consumption of books is an increasingly uniform experience that removes the "idiosyncratic, personal judgments of numerous individual booksellers." We no longer encounter the book as we did as recently as twenty years ago. How will the current generation of young consumers conceive of the book as it is delivered to them within the matrices of internet advertising, box store displays, and Starbucks cross-merchandizing? As we become accustomed to the rationalization of the book industry in the twenty-first century, it becomes all the more urgent that we study the essential and idiosyncratic functions that independent bookstores and their proprietors have served throughout recent history.

Please submit abstracts of 500 words along with brief CVs to Huw Osborne (osborne@rmc.ca) by January 15 2010.

Huw Osborne
Department of English
The Royal Military College of Canada
PO BOX 17000
Station Forces Kingston
Kingston Ontario
K7K 7B4
(613) 541-6000 (6269)