Bookshops and the state of a nation

Can you tell the state of a nation by the quality of its bookshops? My question is prompted by a recent visit to France where, once again, I was astounded by the range and quality of books on display in the country's bookshops. It wasn't just in the university city of Nantes, it was also in provincial towns such as La Roche sur Yon where the independent Mediastore carried a range of books and music that not only put to shame Britain's retailers but also proved irresistible. So from a major display of books commemorating 1968 I splurged on Les années 68 which provides a world view on that extraordinary year.

An equally impressive music range yielded, among other CDs, Taksim Trio, a new release from the Turkish label Doublemoon which has featured here before. The trio of Hüsnü Senlendirici on clarinet, Ismail Tunçbilek on baglama and Aytaç Dogan on quanun dance between traditional, arabesque, jazz and classical styles in an album that is categorised as world music but which is really quintessentially Turkish. The 'taksims' of the title refer to the improvisations on the album, but Taksim Square is also the public space in Istanbul where private political frustrations become public demonstrations. Taksim Square features on the album sleeve above and also in my photo below of a political demonstration, which I took when I visited Istanbul last year.

Sadly, the political climate in Turkey is once again volatile following this week's arrest of two retired army generals as part of an investigation into a series of high profile killings. The plot also, allegedly, included a plan to murder the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk who controversially stepped out-of-line by writing about the 1915 ethnic cleansing of Armenians. Which seems to confirm that books, if not bookshops, are a good measure of the state of a nation.

More French passion for books here, possibly the best record store in the world here and lots of Turkish resources here.
Taksim Square photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Drew80 said…
I regret the demise of the bookstore, but the bookstore is going the way of the disc shop, I fear.

In the last five years, every book I have bought has been acquired online or through membership in the History Book Club, which makes books available (from both the U.S. and the U.K.) before they even hit bookstores here.

The same is true with compact discs. Aside from raiding Tower Records at the time it went out of business, every disc I have acquired over the last several years has been picked up online.

I think this is true of practically everyone here.
Pliable said…
Drew, your comment is echoed by many people, and I cannot disagree with it.

But I do receive a lot of emails from readers saying how much they appreciate the quirky and eclectic mix of CDs and books that appears on the path. And virtually every CD featured here recently was bought over the county in a 'bricks and mortar' store triggered by 'serendipity' rather than search engines. For instance I never would have found the Bach-Coltrane or Taksim Trio recordings online.

The moral of this story is I may be a dinosaur, but dinosaurs do have their uses.

Have a great holiday all you folk in the States.
Drew80 said…
Thank you for such warm holiday wishes, Pliable.

Yes, the serendipitous purchase disappears when one cannot browse a music store or a bookstore.

However, many remaining U.S. music stores and bookstores are no longer worth browsing, alas.

In addition, there is another trend in play here: people will browse an enormous Barnes And Noble store for interesting books, have a coffee in the store cafe, and then go home and order their selections online (where prices are lower).

Brick and mortar stores here can't win for losing.
Pliable said…
Drew, I've developed a variation on this theme. When I read a review of an interesting book I simply order it online for 55 pence from the superb Norfolk Library Service.

This allows me to stipulate which library I want to collect the book from. I nominate the excellent city centre Millenium Library in Norwich (which has a great American collection).

When I go in to collect my book I make an 'independent offset' by popping in to the wonderful Prelude Records close by to buy a CD.

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