Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spoonbill & Sugartown Bookstore

1. I like Spoonbill, I do -- I like being in it, I like browsing the store, and I enjoy buying books there. I will continue to patronize them in the future. The only problem, as I see it, is that they have like fifty books total in their store. I probably have more books in my apartment than they have in their store. This makes it impossible to browse for more than five or ten minutes. There's simply no comparison between Spoonbill and larger stores like McNally Jackson, Housing Works, or BookCourt -- all of which, unlike for instance the Strand, maintain an intimate bookstore atmosphere while managing to offer a much greater depth and variety of books. I find the paucity of books at Spoonbill to be a limiting factor in my enjoyment of the store.

2. To the charge that Spoonbill has a paucity of books, Marina counters, "But all their books are good." This is true. The books on sale at Spoonbill tend to form a sort of exquisite trove. Every one has been selected with care, and although my "browsing" is negatively impacted by the paucity of books, it is also positively affected by the high frequency of congenial books hit upon. Indeed, there's an economic rationale for the "exquisite" quality of Spoonbill's stock: the work of long discernment and careful selection done by the bookstore constitutes one of the forms in which it adds value to the books on sale. Their browsing obviates mine. Spoonbill itself seems to recognize this. Its website boasts, "the most significant factor here is the element of serendipity: you never know what you might find." Clearly, they take a great deal of care in deciding what will appear in their store. To this end, therefore, one could classify Spoonbill as a sort of book-boutique which sells both books difficult to obtain elsewhere and more "high-quality" (as interpreted by the reading demographic Spoonbill serves) books than easily found elsewhere. This is clearly a desirable function to perform.

3. On the other hand, by assembling the perfect trove of books ahead of time -- so rare, authentic, balanced, well-researched, well-seasoned, etc. -- I think Spoonbill risks falling into one of the pathologies of Williamsburg and "hipster" culture as a whole, which is, while claiming to uphold values like authenticity, uniqueness, and the forgotten charms of cultural praeterita, all in contradistinction to "pre-fab" mass pop style, to nevertheless fall prey to a form of market submission as it congeals around "alternative" venues, stores, goods, or even looks. By obviating and expediting the work of browsing, Spoonbill destroys its spontaneity and life. If every book Spoonbill offers is "collectible," then so much the worse for book collections, which have always existed as mirrors of the specific idiosyncrasies and interests of the collector, the nooks and grottoes of their personalities, the values Lichtenberg purported to behold in one's mistress, "weaknesses and dreams" -- and not the neighborhood bookstore he or she happened to frequent. The lifelong career of book-pursuer evolves two products, each the dialectical obverse of the other, the collecting self and the collection itself. If the second is handed over as a fait accompli, then the development of the first is aborted in ovo. Indeed, considered in this way, what is the very "serendipity" of Spoonbill's book-collection but mass market irrationalism sub specie alternitatis?

4. In this light, my original complaint of the paucity of books seems vindicated. In order to preserve the spontaneity and life pursuant to book-browsing -- and by extension the well-developed collector and well-rounded collection -- a bookstore must offer enough space in which to lose oneself and find oneself again/anew. The exquisiteness of the trove on display is immaterial if this basic condition is not met, and indeed, so I maintain, the paucity of books at Spoonbill will always be a limiting factor of my enjoyment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review of Ratatouille

1. The movie Ratatouille is an allegory for the Hispanic underclass at work in the back of every kitchen. "Not everybody can become a great chef, but a great chef can come from everywhere." This conclusion delivered at the movie's end reveals Ratatouille to be, despite its hexagonal setting, just another movie built around the American dream -- albeit one which promises in addition to social mobility the marriage of that mobility with one's original class/group affiliation (Remy becomes a great chef, and he does it all without losing touch with the rat clan).

The function of the classic American dream narrative was to mystify the unjust disposition of classes through sprinkling the magic dust of upward class mobility over the class-system. With a kind of perverse Rawlsian logic, the system as a whole was rendered just since anyone could become top dog, if only he or she tried hard enough, swept enough chimneys, or shined enough shoes. (No wonder the mass take-over of the kitchen by rats at one point in the film inspires such total revulsion in everyone who sees it: it portends a revolutionary reversal beyond all decency.) The particular justifies the whole, here as everywhere, and ultimately Remy's front-kitchen prominence, culinary self-development, and successful trajectory only expiate the concomitant extermination of his back-alley brethren.

If they ever do a remake of Ratatouille, I think they should set it in Wilhelmine/Weimar Germany and call it Rathenau after the German-Jewish industrialist Walter Rathenau who pulled the strings of Germany's war economy until he was assassinated by anti-Semites in 1922.

2. Whenever Disney wants to tell us that a character is pretty and/or good, they give that person these big, wet doe-eyes with lots of nictitation, in this case: Colette. Why is that? Is it a kind of physiognomic legibility that just works? Are big eyes supposed to be a sign of conscientiousness or empathy maybe? What's the deal here? (And how about the opposite -- squinty eyes? Are they bad because they're always trying to appraise and size things up -- to "eyeball" them in the parlance of petty drug dealers? Is this why David Paterson looks so sinister? And why is that man trying to take away my soda?)

3. Colette's comment about the dish ratatouille, "But that's peasant food!" is the most French moment in the film. I love it.

4. Someone should do a study of movies about rats. There sure have been a lot of them.

5. Ratatouille: 5/5 stars.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is inconsistent behavior funny?

To whit: while perusing the BBC, I found a story about citizens of Ireland traveling to North Ireland due to highly favorable exchange rates between the Euro and the Pound, and there was the predictable, obligatory invocation by an Irish government type person of the patriotic duty to buy from their own borders for tax reasons. Meanwhile, one would rather hope that wherever one has invested money is taking full advantage of the opportunity for arbitrage. Is this funny?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Sam's mother, for his birthday some weeks ago, sent us a lovely package of French cheese along with mustard, gherkins, and tapenade. The gherkins, which we opened tonight, have a most wondrous device; a small piece of plastic at the bottom of the jar, with a handle reaching to the top, that one can lift to get those pesky pickles at the bottom. Every packaged good ever should do this.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Postcolonial Justice

From The Nation's review of the new Naipaul biography:
"The 1971 Booker Prize, and the success of Guerillas, brough Naipaul an avalanche of invitations, awards and teaching offers, and in 1978 he spent a year as a visiting professor at Wesleyan. French says his courses were "brilliantly inventive," but his patience with students who missed deadlines was short: "You are like officials in the Congo," he informed them. "You are corrupt."