Wednesday 10 April 2013

The last place that bookshops ought to die – Michelle Lovric

My second novel, The Floating Book, is about the dawn of printing in Venice. It plays on the idea that publishing a book is like throwing it into the water. The lives of all my characters depend on whether the first edition of Catullus, printed in Venice in 1472, will sink or float.

Of all inventions, I would argue that printing is the one that has most changed humanity, because it is the one that has most influenced the way in which we humans express ourselves. Even the internet still defers to the book, visually and linguistically. We still think in pages, in words juxtaposed with images.

In the course of a few brief years in the middle of the fifteenth century, everything about books changed. Until then, each volume could be created only as quickly as a single man, writing by hand, could compose or copy it. Each book was as different as the handwriting of its scribe and the talent of its illuminator.

With printing, three hundred books could be printed in a day. Three hundred identical copies of each book, day after day.

This transition from slow books to fast ones was recognised for all its wonder and danger. In Venice, the revolutionary idea of printing could have gone either way. Some Venetian oligarchs and many churchmen were against the printing press, believing it to be Lucifer’s latest weapon against the innocence of the ignorant public. But others, such as the book collector Domenico Zorzi, saw mass-manufactured learning as an ingenious boon, akin to the Lord’s multiplication of good things in the loaves and fishes. Not only might writers now feed the minds of the multitudes, but publishers could ensure that this was achieved at a price not beyond the purse of a reasonably prosperous man. The written word was no longer reserved for those with bottomless scrigni or coffers.

On March 18th, 1468, Domenico Zorzi persuaded his peers at the Venetian collegio to allow printing to commence in Venice. And not long afterwards two young German brothers made their way over the Alps from Speyer. Johann and Wendelin Heynrici carried with them the matrixes and iron letters of their trade. By coincidence, and perhaps as an omen, at exactly the same time, there arrived in Venice the entire library of the learned Cardinal Bessarion, destined to make the giddy, beautiful Serenissima a more bookish, serious city. But in those days there was as yet no Marciana library and the books were carried off to the Doge’s Place until a suitable repository could be made for them.

Meanwhile the two brothers from Speyer stoically faced down the byzantine bureaucracy of the Venetian state. They had also to deal with the Venetians’ prejudices against their race – Germans were considered boorish and fit only for making useful objects like weighing scales. It was rumoured that their very skin stank of metal. The brothers had a great deal to prove, and not just their technical skills. 

Printing, of course, would fuse technology with creativity in a way that had never happened before. And in more forms than one: I believe that it is no coincidence that oil painting and printing arrived in Venice at around the same time. Giovanni Bellini himself was a sensale (a kind of tax official or broker) at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which for me was the logical place for Wendelin and Johann to set up business, in the centre of town and close to the German community’s church of San Bartolomeo on the San Marco side of Rialto. Bellini was brother-in-law to fellow-artist Andrea Mantegna, a great friend of the charismatic scribe Felice Feliciano, who seems to have joined the German brothers in an advisory capacity.

Johann and Wendelin embedded themselves more deeply in their adopted community. They married local girls. Johann’s bride was Paola di Messina, the daughter of the artist thought to have brought the technique of oil painting to Venice. And on September 18th, 1469, the Collegio of Venice conferred upon ‘Johann von Speyer’ the exclusive right to print the letters of Cicero and the Natural History of Pliny ‘in the most beautiful form of lettering’.

And that was the very beginning of Venice’s long reign as the greatest printing centre in Italy.

logo of Aldo Manuzio
Printing stumbled through its first years in the city, beset by accusations of immorality from intemperate priests and rumours of collusion in the forging of currency (the tools of printing being similar to those of minting). Some printers were even executed. The vicious plague of 1478 reduced the number of printers from twenty-two to eleven. But gradually the lot of the stamperie improved. Soon the French typographic genius Nicolas Jenson was competing against the Speyer brothers with his covetable small formats; within twenty years Aldo Manuzio had set up his legendary press. Greek and Hebrew printers gravitated towards the city. Which was the first city to print the Koran in Arabic? Where were the first books produced in Armenian? Where did the first best-sellers appear? Yes, Venice, every time.

The names of the consiliari who signed the original document for Johann von Speyer included Angelus Gradenigo, Bertuccius Contareno, Franciscus Dandolo, Jacobus Maureceno, Angelus Venerio. The names of these men are painted on the ceiling in a small room of the Marciana library where I did the research for The Floating Book, holding in my own hand Johann and Wendelin’s first edition of Catullus, printed in their graceful font and lightly rubricated in red.

Now, nearly 550 years later, the same building shall host another historic appointment. On Friday April 12th, two days from now, the writers of Venice will assemble in the Salone della Libreria Sansoviniana to address a new emergency in the literary life of the city: the haemorrhaging of her once-plentiful and beloved bookshops.

In the last four weeks alone have come the announcements or threats of closures of four more bookshop: addio to the venerable Goldoni, the Capitello, the Laboratorio Blu, the Marco Polo. This is a hard blow for a city that already lost her biggest bookshop, the Mondadori, a couple of years ago (you can read my obituary here) and which has also seen the recent closure of other establishments like the Tarantola and the Fantoni at San Luca, the Rossa at San Pantalon, the Solaris at the Maddalena, the Libreria Patagonia, known for its owner Vittorio’s ability to find even the most unfindable volumes.

a staircase of books at Luigi Frizzo's Acqua Alta bookshop
February 23rd saw the closing of the Ghetto’s Old World Books, run by the poet John Francis Phillimore. The survivors are few and far between, but include the Toletta, the Cafoscariana, Il Mare di Carta. The sellers of second-hand books seem to be surviving better: the Acqua Alta near Santa Maria Formosa, Luigi Frizzo’s wonderland of kitsch, dust and masterpieces, the little shop that used to be his at Miracoli, Filippi in Calle Paradiso, Bertoni, Sogni del Tempo and L’Emiliana.

The announcement of the closure of the Goldoni seems to have been the last straw, or in Italian parlance, the drop that made the vase overflow for Venice’s large and disparate community of writers and illustrators. How can a small bookshop pay a rent of 9000 euro a month? Or perhaps it was the Marco Polo bookshop receiving fines of 1000 euro for displaying a literary event poster without the official Comune stamp that made them think enough was enough? Whatever the final cause, the sense of outrage has now reached critical mass.
More than a hundred Venetian writers and writers about Venice, as well as many illustrators, have been galvanized into an unprecedented ‘class action’ by Alessandro Marzo Magno, author of L'alba dei libri. Quando Venezia ha fatto leggere il mondo (The Dawn of Books: When Venice Made the World Read.) Among those who have joined the cause are such well-known novelists as Strega Prize winner Tiziano Scarpa, Enrico Palandri, Andrea Molesini, Roberto Ferrucci, Alberto Toso Fei, Renato Pestriniero and Francesco da Mosto. Writers about Venice, including myself, have also been recruited.

The campaign started as a flow of emails between friends, spread to friends of friends and led to a meeting last Tuesday with the Assessori of Commercio e Attività culturali, and other city officials, who have declared themselves ready and willing to participate in the saving of Venice’s bookshops. There was a public meeting on April 4th entitled Venezia al bivio: librerie e non solo: Venice at the crossroads: bookshops and not only bookshops. Even the mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, has said that something must be done. ‘In the city of culture, it is not tolerable that places of culture are thrown out in favour of Chinese mask shops with neon lights. That’s the way the market is going, but a brake needs to be put on it.’ The campaign will culminate in the event this Friday at the Marciana with the launch of Venezia città di lettoriVenice, City of Readers.
The writers have announced that they are going to take a strong and determined position against these losses, which have become untenable. Now Venetian writers are creatures of their time, of this time: they are fully aware that the printed book is suffering everywhere; that bookshops are suffering from online offerings too. But in Venice, the cradle of Italian printing, the loss of the bookshops is less bearable than elsewhere. We are facing, as Tiziano Scarpa puts it, a paradox: a city of culture, without the shops to purvey culture. And Roberto Ferrucci speaks for us all when he says that this is a time when it behoves Venetian writers to stand up for their bookshops. What sense would there be in writing, he asks, if there were no booksellers?

The epidemic of bookshop deaths can also be seen as a metaphor for the inexorable destruction of once-important elements of quotidian life in Venice. It is not only the bookshops that are disappearing in a cityscape now dominated by the economic imperatives of tourism: bars, mask shops and glass shops are the new plague on the built environment. In my own ‘village’ of San Vio, I remember fondly the two butchers (the deaf one and the grumpy one), the fruttivendolo, the latteria, the bakery, the hardware store, the haberdashery. In the last ten years, all have disappeared – and so it is in every zone of Venice, each of which once used to have at least one bookshop, providing vital intellectual and cultural sustenance for a local population as well as employment for educated, book-loving Venetians.
The Marciana, the oldest cultural institution in Venice, has been happy to host Friday’s public meeting of the writers, at which a manifesto will be presented, along with a programme of events designed to breathe life back into the bookshops.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
If all goes well, you’ll be reading its contents in the English press, I hope, in the next week.

So I shall not pre-empt them too much. I think they may well be the most interesting and eloquent words uttered about the future of Venice since Filippo Tommaso Marinetti scattered hundreds of copies of his Futurist Manifesto Against a Past-Loving Venice from the Campanile in San Marco in 1910. (The Futurist agenda, however, was quite different from that of the eighty Venetian writers currently pursuing their action against the dumbing-down of their home. Marinetti wanted to ‘murder the moonlight’ and cleanse the ‘putrescent’ Venice, ‘the festering bubo of the past’, of all stultifying sentimentality, recreating her as an industrial modern city, breathing industrial smoke, not dreams. He called for the canals to be drained and filled with the rubble of the ‘leprous’ palaces that lined them, and for gondolas, ‘those rocking chairs for cretins’, to be burnt.)

What can be done to help the bookshops in Venice? Well, without giving too much away, a number of practical measures are under consideration. There are precedents too. In Milan, there is talk of devoting some ‘sacred spaces’ in the public realm to high-quality bookshops, with controlled rents. This has already been done in Paris. Could similar spaces be found in Venice by the three institutions with the biggest property holdings: IRE, the Curia and the Comune itself? Venetian bookshops might be considered cultural rather than commercial operations, with appropriate financial help and reduced rates. Could there be stronger relationships between the bookshops and the museums?

And the writers, in the meantime, will seek ways to raise public awareness about the precious literary sustenance they are in danger of losing. Flash mobs, blacked-out bookshop windows, public readings and other events have been suggested. And Friday’s manifesto itself will be a lasting witness to the passion of Venetian writers for their trade and for their history.

If you would like to sign up to the campaign against the closures of bookshops in Venice, you can join the Venice, City of Readers Facebook group. Here is the link

Robin Saika has posted a new translation of Marinetti’s Contro Venezia Passatista here

Michelle Lovric’s website

Michelle Lovric’s new novel for young readers, The Fate in the Box – a dark tale of 18th-century Venice – is published on May 2nd by Orion Children’s Books.

This post has attracted a lot of attention. If you want to leave a comment, you first need to become a Follower of the blog. We have had to disable Anonymous comments, because of bad Spam.


rosemary said...

Wow, action is needed, such a disgrace that this has happened.

I am happy to help in whatever I can, just tell me. The bookshops have to be saved. It's all about money as usual.

Look forward to guidance from the writers..

Love Rosemary XX

michelle lovric said...

Joining the Facebook page for Venezia Citta' di Lettori is the best help at the moment. And spreading the word via twitter with a link to this blog. Thank you so much!

Lynne Garner said...

Will join the Facebook page and generally spread the word. With fingers crossed more closures can be stopped and perhaps new book shops will open up to replace those lost.

Rosalie Warren said...

Indeed a disgrace that this should happen. I've also joined the Facebook group and will try to publicise the campaign.

Lucy Coats said...

I'm going to put it out on Twitter under the hashtag #VeniceCityofReaders and try to mobilise support over here and in the US. It is a disgrace, and Venice bureaucrats should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Emma Barnes said...

Will join the FB site. It's sad, and it's happening everywhere. I was especially interested to read about the number of practical measures are under consideration - i think those might be worth thinking about beyond Venice or Italy.

In the UK the Net Book Agreement was an acknowledgement that books were not just a commodity - it's demise seems also to have marked the sad demise of many independent bookshops.

Pam said...

Really hope this campaign is heard. Can't imagine Venice without bookshops

adele said...

What a dreadful situation. I wil join Lucy's twitter campaign...I'm not on Facebook. Everything you write about it, Michelle, I will tweet under the hashtag Lucy has proposed. This makes me feel so sad...good luck to you and all the other Venetian writers.

liz young said...

What a dreadful shame. Money rules as usual. If I ever get to Venice I would like to think there would still be bookshops there.

AnneR said...

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michelle lovric said...

Yet another symptom (and certainly an important one)of the "dumbing down" of Venice.
Books are now little more than merchandise in this seriously ailing culture, and I fear that only the profit motive has any chance of producing results that may change things for the better.

michelle lovric said...

It would be little less than tragic to lose the beautiful and fascinating book shops of Venice. I do most ardently ask that this might not happen.

Penny Dolan said...

I think a city without bookshops is a city without a soul. If ever I travel somewhere - as I did to Venice last year, I buy books not toys or masks. This is a tragedy that comes from the economics of rents and rates - and I do hope so hope that the writers of Venice, by this action, persuade the people on the various city councils that the bookshops are central to the culture and mood of the city. If the soul of the city goes, the rest becomes a hoow stage set. Power to the writers - and to those so-important booksellers.

Thank you for posting this, Michelle.

Leslie Wilson said...

How awful! But I am very glad you are blogging about it and bringing it to people's attention. I do agree that it is dreadful when you find shop upon shop just selling the same tourist stuff and the shops become rather like some theme-park shop. Shall FB and tweet, Michelle!

mcrosbie said...

This is a fantastic campaign - Best of luck to everyone attending this Friday, and to all those involved! I will be sharing this on FB. Also, be sure to follow Michelle on facebook as well!

michelle lovric said...

What a disgrace! and in the city where it all began... I applaud the initiatives to save books and culture in Venice and urge anyone who hasn't read The Floating Book to do so -- it brings the history of printing in Venice alive in the most exciting and beautiful way. Let's save this stupendous city from becoming Disneyland on Sea. I shall join the FB page and pass the message on to everyone I know.

michelle lovric said...

I am appalled to hear the news that bookshops, one after the other, are closing down in Venice!
Venice, with its very special beauty, has inspired writers for centuries and is continuing to do so.
It would be a terrible irony indeed if bookshops, second homes to readers and writers, were to disappear from the very city which is known throughout the world for the inspiration it provides.
When you see Serenisima, you want to imbibe all her exquisite beauty, but alas, it is too much. You must eventually record your vision and hope that others will record theirs. Bookshops are a celebration of words and pictures together - we need them for our survival as civilized human beings and for our memories of Serenisima when we cannot be with her. And indeed when she might no longer be with us.

With heartfelt good wishes for this campaign to save Venice's bookshops,

Sue Purkiss said...

Good luck! Have joined the FB group.

michelle lovric said...

ho letto quanto hai scritto sul nostro movimento e ti ringrazio.
Venezia sta attraversando un momento storico molto difficile (come avrai notato anche da quanto ho denunciato su "Report. Venezia sull'orizzonte degli eventi"). Speriamo che con questa iniziativa e l'aiuto di tante persone sparse nel mondo che amano questa città del mondo si raggiunga qualche risultato.

michelle lovric said...

A grim turn of affairs, losing bookshops in Venice. All power to the campaign to find ways of sheltering those that remain! And may practical ideas that come out of it be applied in other cities.

michelle lovric said...

Many thanks for alerting me to this shocking trend. I was immensely saddened, but not terribly surprised, as we noticed on our last trip to Venice (in 2011) that several of our favorite bookstores were gone. It was bad enough when many of New York's best privately-owned bookstores closed their doors because they couldn't compete with the big boys like Barnes and Noble. But it's one thing to be forced out by competition, another and uglier thing to be forced out by pure greed. And replaced by pure crap.

I had no idea of Venice's seminal role in bringing printing to Europe and found your blog so interesting. I was particularly impressed that the writers participating in Friday's meeting have concrete solutions to present that might stem the flow of more of Venice's cultural heritage into the sea. Brava for you and for them! Wish I could be there. But if there's anything I can do to support your efforts from here, please let me know.

michelle lovric said...

Soooo very sad. A great loss. Landlords that know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

michelle lovric said...

Disaster! Venice-or indeed anywhere- without books.
People may think e-readers will sink books, but TV never sunk theatre and DVDs never sunk cinema.
Good luck with the campaign.

michelle lovric said...

a shame! Not only for booksellers. I couldn't find a single shop in Venice to supply a DV: only the one at Santa Margherita where you can order them. Certainly this is a crisis, but it sounds so unbelievable!

michelle lovric said...

Venice, as an entity, is attractive internationally as a repository of history, the arts, architecture and a certain way of life. Curtailing bookshops will diminish its value as such because locally accumulated printed knowledge bears no comparison with electronically collected and often incomplete information. It beggars one's logic to consider just Googling and colating information as ‘research’ compared to using what is offered by books.

Without diverse bookshops in many localities, maintaining and disseminating relevant traditional information in printed words is difficult to say the least

Venice’s lifeline is tourism. Tourism without bookshops in an old city with all other attractions is a contradiction in terms for a city that needs to further all-round support for visitors.

the ‘user pay’ principle should not apply regarding only economical viability for bookshops, as they should be considered in Venice as extension of all utilities provided. Making them financially viable would be possible if authorities considered overall tourist expenditure such for the maintaining of architecture, historical monuments, museums or attractive sights. Bookshops and staff form part of the whole and there are no big historical cities without bookshops.

michelle lovric said...

That’s all very depressing. We will certainly support the Twitter campaign.
Meryl Halls
Head of Membership Services, Booksellers Association

michelle lovric said...

A fantastic post, Michelle, I had no idea the situation was so precarious; what a tragedy to even be contemplating losing the world of print through bookshops in the city where it all began. I’ve re-shared the blog on all our social media and popped a call to action note on too, and I’ve also joined the group on Facebook. Good luck and thanks for bringing it to our attention.

michelle lovric said...

Living here for a decade now and witnessing the sad spectacle of the increasing overwhelming of the local and characteristic commercial and artisanal life of Venice made me respond to your 'call to arms'.
The rapid decline of the bookshops, whose historical and ongoing cultural significance is so well described above, is surely the proverbial 'last straw' and must provoke action.
Venetian culture is rich and unique, and now so fragile in this economic climate where, even here, money sweeps aside all before it, that Venice deserves imaginative and responsible action now to nurture a hope for its long-term survival and the values the city and its life traditionally represent.

Unknown said...

Truly sad.
Without bookshops Venice would lose the beating heart of its culture.
Good luck to the campaign.....

michelle lovric said...

Horrified to hear of the closure of many of Venice’s bookshops. This is tantamount to cutting the literary artery of this iconic city. The end result will be fatal for not only the Venetians but their city’s many visitors!

michelle lovric said...

A city without bookshops. Venice might as well dry up its canals and replace them with four lane highways. We had very similar problems in West London when, after the success of the film Notting Hill, virtually all the landlords in Portobello Road raised their rents sky-high and we saw the loss of a raft of brilliant independent shops, including the much-missed Elgin Books as a result. And the neighbourhood is still infinitely poorer for their loss (although the wonderful Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop has now set up nearby).
Will spread the word and do whatever little I can to help. Time for Michelle’s wonderful mermaids to spring to the defence of their city again.

michelle lovric said...

How very sad about all the bookshops in Venice. I had no idea Venice played such an important part in the story of printing. The campaign to save the bookshops sounds very exciting and dynamic . All the best of luck.

michelle lovric said...

As a bookseller, I'd like to show solidarity with my colleagues in Venice.
A city without a bookshop is like a human without a heart.
Let us hope that the Venezia Citta' di Lettori campaign can provide a curative surgical intervention.

michelle lovric said...

What kind of shop contains more wonders than a good bookshop? And what would be more lonely than a life without access to books? Let's hope there will be a way to save the wonderful, friendly, endangered bookshops of Venice.

michelle lovric said...

Michelle, thanks for writing this. It has been very sad to see these shops go. Let's hope the tide can be turned (to use a suitably marine metaphor.

deirdrek said...

The closure of the bookshops is further evidence of how daily life here in Venice is changing. Most days I feel like I am walking out onto a 'film set' with less and less relationship to the real life and history of this wonderful place.

Just imagine if children growing up here never experience the pleasure of spending time in a bookshop.

Gallicideciani said...

I was at the meeting this morning - flying the flag for British authors. Alessandro Marzo Magno spoke about the history of publishing and printing in the city. He talked about the room we were in - the Sansovino Library - and how important a symbol this is of Venice's literary heritage. Andrea Molesini spoke of the sheer beauty of bookshops - they are, in their way, as important a part of any city's heritage as churches, sculpture, paintings, the literary canon. Petra Reski reflected on how bookshops are (or were) an important part of everyday life - as important a component of the fabric of the community as local tradesmen of any kind - fishmongers, bakers, cobblers, candlemakers. Here is part of Tiziano Scarpa's speech:

In Britian we have a similar problem with public libraries - they face closure because of woolly thinking by successive governments and financial vandalism by local authorities. It's depressing to see the same corrosive market forces at work in Venice.

michelle lovric said...

(in windy Chicago)
The gradual disappearance of bookshops from Venice obscures the fact that it is an important University town which their presence has reinforced and enriched. To all who regret the surrender of the city to mindless tourism, this is a matter of profound regret. We hope that some action can be taken by the city to promote their continuity and - if at all possible - their return.

michelle lovric said...

Thank you for alerting me to this dire state of affairs. So sad. I will spread the word to friends and colleagues to join the campaign and I have asked Dave to post a link from the news page on the Carousel website. I have included a link to a recent article in The Bookseller concerning a move by the French government to try and protect independent booksellers. A refreshing, glimmer of hope in one part of Europe. You might want to post this link on the blog.

michelle lovric said...

As a photographer of Venice since the early 1970s, I have recorded – with dismay and regret – many of the losses to the city in terms of closing shops and useful services, along with the massive increase in round-the-year tourism. The decline, which began gradually, became inexorable, and the closure of good bookshops appears like the lid on a coffin. All support to the campaign to prevent this happening.

michelle lovric said...

Thank you so much to everyone for these comment. Please remember that if you want to post a comment yourself, you need to become a follower of this site, something to be highly recommended anyway!

I am happy to say that the campaign is receiving a lot of attention in the right places.

Ann Giles at Bookwitch has posted about it here:

Lisa Campbell is covering it in The Bookseller

michelle lovric said...

Ieri ho fatto un giro con dei miei amici in zona marciana. C'era un pó di gente a manifestare per una GIUSTA CAUSA. Spero che la manifestazione sia servita a mettere in evidenza a livello locale, e spero nazionale, un problema gravissimo e cioé la chiusura delle librerie, ma da quello che vedo in giro................ Tanti negozie a Venezia chiudono per fare spazio a negozi di nomi famosi, soprattutto della moda. Ma questo è un problema credo mondiale.

michelle lovric said...

The whole bookshop situation in Venice has long concerned me. Like several other people, I imagine, my personal map of the city, over about forty years of walking the terrain, has featured the location of a whole number of bookshops and the pleasure of dropping in on them has been a regular feature of visits to Venice. The disappearance of these has notably quickened during the last four or five years and I'm horrified that the Goldoni should now have joined the list. What next ? The Toletta ? This shop is a sacred spot to all of us who love books and the life of the intellect/mind/imagination/emotionsand the thought that it is now more or less holding the pass for these things in Venice is horrifying.

I simply cannot imagine what has possessed the municipality in allowing this kind of thing to happen. A system of rent control for certain kinds of business, so as to enable them to survive, ought not to be beyond the wit of man to achieve. How can a city which gave birth to the small-format, portable printed volume as an engine of culture hold up its head any longer as an emblem of the humane and the civilized ? What values, other than the commercial, do the city fathers ( and mothers presumably, though one doesn't hear much about them) purport to sustain ? This is the real decadence of modern Venice and it makes my blood run cold.

michelle lovric said...


Alas, I think it might be a failing fight. I've been going back and forth for the past 5 years to another beautiful city by the bay (lagoon)--San Francisco. there are basically no bookstores in downtown San Francisco now. there's Alexander's which has a limited selection and Green Apple, way across town, which has a huge selection of used books where you're likely to find something you like. But you don't stroll past and think to yourself, hmmm--i think i'll pop in. You have to take a bus for at least 20 minutes and you have to go there specially.

I have always been an avid reader and remember those charming bookstores in Venice. But over the past few years I've also become an avid reader of ebooks and I must say-- no number of indie bookstores can replicate the sheer choice you have at, say, amazon. Over a million books. I know this is painful to say but it's true.

There's also a general trend toward crudeness in city centers now anyway. Take a city i know very very well--florence. on Via Tornabuoni there used to be 3 wonderful bookstores, a couple of 19th century coffee shops, Doneys, a few tasteful boutiques, Gucci and Ferragamo. Now the bookshops are gone, there's one very garish bar (with tiger striped stools!!!) some vulgar boutiques and fast food places selling pizza slices.



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