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April 29 Cody's [本・読み物 reading books]

April 29, 2008 (Tuesday)

 

 この日、モーリちゃんの父は、ノビノビになっていた図書館カードをもらいに、ひとりで大学へ行きました。なんのことはなく、Cal 1カードが図書館カードになるわけで、 “Does it work as a library card?” ときくと、 “It functions as a library card.  It’s convenient, isn’t it, as it . . . .” みたいな答え。

 もらった紙2枚を見ても、どこに何があるやらわからないので、入ってみました。中央の吹き抜けは螺旋状の階段になっていて、なかなかritualな感じのする空間になっていて気に入りました。

 帰りのバスが例によってなかなか来ないので、テレグラフ通りのCody’s書店のあとを訪ねました。

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Twenty nine years ago today, I drove down from my home in Sonoma County to become the owner of Cody's Books. That was July 9, 1977 and was exactly 21 years to the day after Fred and Pat Cody opened their first shop on Euclid Avenue. That was July 9, 1956. I was 30 years old. I believed at that time that Cody's was the greatest bookstore in the United States, although I couldn't exactly tell you why. I loved the wide range of literary paperbacks. I loved being on Telegraph Avenue, which was the heart and soul of the 60s counterculture and radical political currents. I loved the smell. I loved the informality and the democratic spirit of Cody's. This was no carriage trade bookstore. Our customers were a band of brothers involved in the world of ideas.I knew intuitively that the breadth of stock, its emphasis on literary, scholarly and academic titles and its location in the heart of America's most unique and intellectual community made the store special. Over the years we built on that tradition. The inventory grew from 35,000 to 150,000 titles. We brought in writers and poets on a daily basis. The great writers of the world visited us and read here. We even hosted presidents.The community didn't exactly embrace me at first. They were suspicious of the newbie. Comparing this callow 30- year-old to Fred would be cause for anyone's concern. Fred was the warmest, most human man you could ever meet. But he had a sort of Old Testament demeanor that gave off the feeling of absolute authority. I was just a young guy. For 20 years, I was referred to as the new owner of Cody's. I think I have finally outlived that moniker.The media have properly focused on Cody's great historic moment during the Rushdie Affair, when Cody's continued to sell The Satanic Verses after being bombed, even as the chains had pulled it from their shelves nationwide. I think the importance of this story is to acknowledge the true heroism of Cody's workers who agreed to risk their lives in support of the principle of freedom of speech. They have received very little glory for this; and, God knows, it brought them no financial gain. It was a quiet, yet heroic, act of commitment that deserves acknowledgement here and should be remembered for all time. Truthfully, the Cody's workers are heroes. They are heroes every day, not just on days when they risk their lives. They come to work and give their passion for literature as part of their job. Cody's greatness would be nothing without them.In the early 1980s it was becoming clear to me that we were entering into a period in which retail values were changing, that diversity and greatness of mind were being subordinated to mass marketing concerns. Increasingly independent bookstores, which thrived on uniqueness and quirkiness, found themselves at risk. Increasingly customers were becoming seduced by the allure of chain booksellers and, later, the Internet.Cody's resisted these trends, although, as business people, we had to make compromises to stay in business. In the 90s the world was becoming an information society and retailing came increasingly under the spell of the mass merchant. Branding became the buzzword of the day. Starbucks was the emblematic retailer of our time. Walmart was the largest business in the world.One would think in a society that puts so much emphasis on information that a store like Cody's on Telegraph would thrive. But people wanted a different kind of information that was provided by the Internet. They wanted it fast and often, they wanted it glib. Cody's was offering something that was a little deeper, a little slower, and increasingly less valued.It calls to mind the words of T. S. Eliot who wrote:

"Where is the wisdom
We have lost in Knowledge?
Where is the knowledge
We have lost in information?
"

Today in our Internet-based culture, can we say that we are wiser or even smarter? Does the Internet teach us the meaning of life? We have instantaneous information, but is it better information? Is it information with a cultural context? With all the emphasis on computers in schools, are our children better educated? Do they understand the world better? Are they better equipped to cope with the future? Are they better citizens? Do they have a stronger sense of virtue?Information can be retrieved faster, but do any of us have more time? Do we have time to savor a great work, such as War and Peace? Do we have time to push ourselves through something as complex as Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain? Do we have time to consider the timeless truths of Aeschylus' Oresteia?We also know that American consumers have come to value uniformity and predictability over diversity. The transformation of communities and market places into formulaic Potemkin villages has ruined the cultural landscape of cities. The marketplace has been the center of community life since the time of the Greek Agora. It is being systematically undermined by chain stores and Internet commerce, which feed on communities without offering a vibrant communal life. It is so sad to see that cities throughout the country are losing their unique sense of place, that American cities are becoming one large Walnut Creek, filled with the predictable Bed & Bath, Barnes & Nobles, and the ubiquitous, soulless, main street-crushing Walmarts.The book business was increasingly influenced by the growing power of chain book stores and came to be seduced by the "blockbuster" at the expense of a more complex and balanced backlist. What had previously been a business where diversity was encouraged and celebrated also found itself obsessed with the fetish of publicity. Books became dominated by the media tie-in and the mass market. Great books that couldn't get the media hype were forgotten, left on the shelves and ultimately returned to the warehouses. At Cody's we resisted these trends. But in spite of this, we found that increasingly we were selling more media-driven best sellers and less of our wonderful wide ranging back list.And now as we come to the end of our 41-year journey on Telegraph Avenue, it has at last become clear to me the meaning of Cody's greatness. Excuse me again for quoting T. S. Eliot:

"We shall not cease from Exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
"

For all these 41 years, this store has been marching to the beat of a different drummer. We have believed in the life of the mind. We have extolled the greatness of the human spirit. We have celebrated the diversity of the human intellect.It is with great sadness that I must say that the world does not embrace these values today. And we can no longer keep this store open.To our loyal customers, who do embrace these values, I am sorry that we are letting you down. I truly wish that we could have kept this store alive for another 50 years. But we can't. There just aren't enough of you to make it work.I know that a day will come when the world will change again. And Americans will recognize that the fetish for branding, for predictability, for mass marketing is a sad and impoverishing myth, and that people will once again rediscover a richer world of ideas, and a store like Cody's at Telegraph, that thrived on that richness, will be reborn.

We will be true to our values at our other stores at Fourth Street and at Union Square. And I know that those of you who share our values will visit us there. But there will always be a place in my heart for this great store. I hope its memory will remain in your hearts as well.

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 はじめ、大手のチェーン書店によって、それからインターネットによって打撃を受け、時代は変わっていったと。こうして、テレグラフ通りにあった有名なCody’s のビルは、for saleの掲示がされて、通りから少しだけ奥まった前の空間では花屋が花を売っていました。しかし、あとで知ったのですけれども、Shattuck通りに店舗を移していたのでした。まあ、90年代後半にはホームページで店員たちの紹介とか元気そうにしていたわけで(もっとも顔写真を載せるというのは今はどこもやらないでしょうけれど)、インターネット憎し、などと言っていられるはずもないのでしょうけれども。


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