The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
A trip to the
bookstore
assaults ears


September 23, 1999
By Franklin Harris

In which our hero makes the rounds of various and sundry booksellers...

Bookshops should be tranquil places, places where you can browse in serenity while some piece of classical music plays softly over the sound system. In most of the large chain bookstores, the relaxing aroma of fresh-brewed coffee compensates for the harsh lighting and constant bustle.

But there is one bookshop I frequent -- no names, please -- where I think someone is trying deliberately to chase me off.

Every time I enter the place, which I'm forced to do more often than I'd like, I am assaulted. The music piped into the store is, quite simply, an affront to book browsing. It is so dreadful, so soul-destroying, that it once actually sent me fleeing the shop, my nerves jangled and my muscles painfully tensed.

I felt like the Martians in "Mars Attacks," whose heads literally exploded when they were subjected to the yodeling "talents" of Slim Whitman.

I'm not talking about mere elevator music. The monotony of hearing Beatles songs as rendered by Lawrence Welk Orchestra rejects would be welcome by comparison. Elevator music is merely boring.

No. I'm talking about something far more sinister.

Imagine trying to browse the newsstand while being bombarded by the off-key bellowing of a jazz singer whose voice sounds like a cat being drawn and quartered. Just think of leafing through the latest fiction books while Frank Sinatra's butchered "duet" with U2's Bono plays, coming at you from overhead and every side, closing on you.

The Sinatra half of the song is smooth enough, but there is a place in hell reserved for the person who decided U2's raspy throated lead singer should come within 1,000 miles of "I've Got You Under My Skin."

I suspect it is a plot. It is a conscious effort to force people to make their purchases and go -- to stop people from reading in the store only to leave spent magazines and newspapers behind, unpurchased. It is the store's subtle way of saying to customers, "What do you think this is, a library?"

Fortunately, this problem has a simple solution: earplugs.

I'll have to remember to buy some before I next go shopping for books.

  • Meanwhile, at another bookseller, I stumbled upon a book titled "Between the Leaves: A Gathering of Writings by Booksellers."

    What next? Will the folks earning minimum wage in the bookstore's café write a book in which they wax eloquent on the subject of decaffeinated double mocha lattes?

  • John Updike and Katrina Kenison have edited a collection they modestly call "The Best American Short Stories of the Century." It features tales by most of the usual suspects, most quite deserving of inclusion: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and so on.

    Unsurprisingly, however, given the snobbish, New Yorkerish (as in the magazine) sensibilities of Updike and company, not a single work of genre fiction is included in this august collection.

    Never mind overlooked geniuses like Harlan Ellison and Avram Davidson, Updike and Kenison's collection doesn't even contain Shirley Jackson's supernatural chiller, "The Lottery."

    As others have said, any collection of American short stories without an entry by Ms. Jackson isn't a "best of" anything.

  • Speaking of The New Yorker, that magazine's former editor, Tina Brown, has afflicted the world with her second issue of Talk magazine.

    Without Hilary Clinton on its cover, the new Talk has generated no hype, and deservedly so. Its only interesting article is an interview with World Wrestling Federation founder Vince McMahon, in which McMahon tells the world what he really thinks of his rival, World Championship Wrestling owner Ted Turner. Hint: McMahon doesn't really think much of the loudmouthed Georgian.

    Not much at all.

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