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Letter from New York: St. Mark's Bookshop

September 12, 2008 |  3:04 pm


If anyone has any doubt that genre fiction has crossed over — not just into the mainstream but also into more alternative corners of the culture — New York’s St. Marks Bookshop offers indisputable proof. I made a quick visit there this morning, and a good half of the featured new and noteworthy titles were mystery and science fiction: Walter Mosley’s “Blonde Faith,” the anthologies “Manhattan Noir 2” and “Steampunk” — all on the shelves where volumes of Lacan and Derrida used to preside.

Don’t get me wrong: St. Mark’s hasn’t dumbed it down, just widened the lens. Also prominently displayed was a volume of Luc Sante’s cultural criticism “Kill All Your Darlings” — the title is taken from William Faulkner — published by the very independent Yeti Publishing.

Sante, of course, has been a central figure in the reexamination of noir and other marginalized traditions; here, he writes about blues, cigarettes and the origins of the word “dope,” although one of my favorite of his pieces, a 2007 Bookforum essay on Georges Simenon, apparently was written too late to make the cut.

But it’s not just the books at St. Mark’s that offer solace to a reader in a society that increasingly views itself as post-literate. It’s also the place itself, which at 11:30 a.m. on a Friday was (dare I say it) crowded, aisles clogged with people browsing, all of us marked by the glorious aimlessness of the reader, the notion that in here, at least, we might keep the world a little bit at bay.

This, it seems to me, is the real draw of books — not escapism but real (if temporary) escape. If the scene at St. Mark’s this morning is any indication, I’m not the only one who needs that in the midst of these confusing days.

— David L. Ulin