A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution (ICA Bookshop Blog)

I’ve got a confession to make, I work in a bookshop and I can’t remember the last time I read a book, well not quite true, I read parts of books all the time, blogs, magazines, catalogue essays, press releases, but actually to sit down and read a book all the way through, that’s tough; I’ ve got a short attention span! A book that I have recently part-read is ‘ A Manual For the 21st Century Art Institution‘, particularly for Maria Fusco’s article about bookshops.

It got me thinking about how people venerate the ‘book’, it represents something much more than the ‘word’, it carries this huge cultural baggage. The book as an idea, as an object is pretty resilient.

In the last year in the UK (according to Wikipedia) there were 206,000 books published in the UK. It seems interesting in an era of easy online access that we are still addicted to disseminating information in this way. I think the reason why the Amazon Kindle hasn’t revolutionized the book industry in the same way that the I-pod changed consumers habits in terms of buying music, is this deep romantic attachment to the published word; the ‘book’. To have a book to your name, regardless of sales seems to carry much more cultural cachet then a well read blog.

The bookshop is where this is played out, it seems to operate as much more than a consumer outlet, it is both a platform for economic exchange but also a place where cultural value is contested. To think about the importance of good independent bookshops seems particularly pertinent at a time when Charing Cross is being emptied of it’s history.

Maria Fusco comments in her excellent essay about how bookshops encourage their staff and customers to operate in intimate and idiosyncratic ways. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that a conversation with a customer has led to an exchange of artists and writers names.

I guess a good bookseller is unlike an Amazon algorithm in that their tastes and recommendations are not reducible down to patterns of behaviour. This ultimately is why I think bookshops are places that are worth cultivating, as a place where the systems of validation can be played out in a more independent way, creating a more diverse and vibrant situation all round.



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