Every good bookslut needs a favorite bookstore. Somewhere to go when you are hankering for a new book, but not for any book in particular. Somewhere you can be reasonably sure will lead you to good books you hadn't known about before. Somewhere clerks and fellow customers are friendly, or at least not annoying. Somewhere you can call a second home.
Upon moving to Tucson nearly two years ago, I promptly set out on two important missions: finding a book store and a comic book store. The comic bookstore was the easier of the two, as my criteria were simple: some place with a diverse selection of independent comics and somewhere that didn't make me feel like an alien just because I happen to have breasts. These two criteria also seem to have some correlation with lighting, though who knows why. Every poorly-lit comic book store I have ever stepped into has eyed me and my skirt suspiciously, and the stores I gravitate to tend to be spacious and well-lit. So after a few missteps, I found myself happily ensconced at Fantasy Comics.
A bookstore is harder, if only because my criteria are more vague. I either know what I am looking for or I'm just browsing, so I don't really care how knowledgeable the help are. But since my father owns and operates an independent business, it's doubtful that a Barnes & Noble or a Borders (tempting as the latter in particular is) is likely to become my adopted second home. I'm also fairly adverse to religious bookstores (Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas being a notable exception), and would prefer to find my bookstore relatively close to the center of town, where I live, rather than have to drive twenty or thirty minutes to get there. Weighing all of these considerations left only Reader's Oasis and Antigone Books as choices. Although Reader's Oasis is a lovely bookstore with a fabulous fiction section, Antigone won my heart for a number of reasons.
Upon walking in the door at Antigone, one of the first things that catch your eye is the "Staff Picks" table. And this table is huge, with books on stacks on top, books in shelves on the sides, books everywhere, all with a bookmark telling you who has recommended them. Seeing books I've loved like Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, So Far From God by Ana Castillo, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie inclines me favorably towards the rest of their predictions.
Just a few steps farther in is a small selection of CDs by female and local artists, where I have found a new favorite CD or two, their fabulous bumper sticker selection ("Because what's a way of life without a bumper sticker, really?" as Ani DiFranco says), and a collection of knick-knacks, magnets, gay pride paraphernalia, and works of local artists and craftspeople.
But let's get back to the books, shall we? Perhaps the defining moment that led me to call Antigone home occurred in their science-fiction section. In college we read an excerpt from a science fiction novel that has lately begun to haunt me. Unfortunately I've lost the excerpt, and could no longer recall either the author or the title of the book. All I knew was that the book took place in a future world where bodies were made to order, the author was female, and that I now desperately wanted to read the rest of the book. I had spent perhaps a year by this point, describing the book to other sci-fi fans in the hopes they knew it, performing fruitless searches online, and had begun to despair of ever finding the elusive book. But finding myself in a science fiction section dominated by female authors, I went through them all more out of habit than out of any conviction that I would actually find what I was looking for. But when I saw the name Tanith Lee, I knew instantly that my search was over. They didn't have my book with the pastel colored, gender-swapping characters in it, but when I raced home and performed one last internet search, I finally knew that the book I had been seeking was Biting the Sun.
But what impresses me most every time I go into their store, is the quality of their non-fiction section. Their current events shelves I could have stocked myself, had I only known that all of these fabulous books existed. Their history shelves are stocked with progressive histories like Howard Zinn's. I nearly swooned one day when I rounded a corner to find a book on female Sufi mystics. I exist in a prolonged state of booklust the entire time I am in their store.
After officially adopting Antigone as my Tucson bookstore, I was a little apprehensive to go meet their owner, Trudy. What if they turned out to be big sexist jerks, or secretly supported Operation Rescue? Would I have to stop shopping there? Luckily, I don't have to. Antigone is involved in feminist and peace issues by disseminating information, selling event tickets, and giving away lots of raffle prizes. They aren't exclusive of men. In fact, they've recently hired their first male employee and note that among their clientele is a shift towards more regular male customers.
Not only did my visit with Trudy dissolve any fears I had about Antigone's
business practices, but she also put into words why independent bookstores
were so important. I have felt so for years, but would be challenged to
explain exactly why. Trudy recounted the story of the controversy of Salman
Rushdie's Satanic Verses, and the decision by America's largest
chains to pull the book from their shelves. If the choice of what books
will be available to the general public rests in the hands of too few,
we all lose. In order to have true diversity, there need to be lots of
people making decisions. Our book choices are already limited enough by
the publishing industry. Of course everyone with a credit card can get
around the prejudices of book buyers by making a visit to Amazon, but
I, for one, need to hold and flip through a book before I buy it. Walking
around a bookstore with a stack of books in my arms that I may or may
not purchase while mulling my decision is for me an essential part of
the book-buying process. And for as long as I live in Tucson, I will do
most of that mulling at Antigone.