Joseph Martin

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Lit Parade’s Special Spring Issue: Sterritt on Spike Lee, Michalski’s Magic Streak, van den Berg in “Vogue,” and More

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image courtesy of http://bigmediavandal.blogspot.com/2013/01/unchained-melody-two-troublemakin.html
image courtesy of Big Media Vandalism

IVY10-e1350927055992Here’s the latest installment of Baltimore writer Joseph Martin’s Ivy Bookshop-sponsored column for the Baltimore Fishbowl, “The Lit Parade,” a celebration and thoughtful examination of the epic local lit scene that too often goes unreported, unread.

In the world of academic analysis, few things madden quite like trying to treat an artist’s entire oeuvre.  And that goes double for movie directors: even amongst the most stylish and singular of moviedom’s “auteurs,” like David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino, there are head-scratching incongruities (Lynch’s The Straight Story), conceptual clunkers (Lynch’s Wild at Heart, the Tarantino-scripted From Dusk ‘Til Dawn), money-grabs (Lynch’s Dune), or simple toss-offs (Tarantino’s smug addition to Four Rooms) with which to contend.  Unlike a painter or a writer, a director’s vision is subservient to cast, crew, funds, marketability, etc. — he or she is in a true artistic bind: a movie has to be sellable, critically viable, and a financial “hit” in order for a director to even keep making art.  What gets made is, ultimately, what can get made, a problem that’s led to many a messy, difficult-to-parse film corpus.

The Baltimore Lit Parade for January, Part II: Jen Michalski’s Double-Novella Smackdown, Stephanie Barber’s “Night Moves,” WORMS News, and More

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Jen

Here’s the latest installment of Baltimore writer Joseph Martin’s Ivy Bookshop-sponsored column for the Baltimore Fishbowl, “The Lit Parade,” a celebration and thoughtful examination of the epic local lit scene that too often goes unreported, unread.

Located somewhere between a short story’s brief epiphanies and a book-length manuscript’s meaty heft, the novella — a strange, pidgin form of fiction — has always defied clear rules or expectations. As an unsurprising result, its greatest lit-historical examples tend to whip along with an odd, enticingly elliptical push-pull, jackknifing between the sorts of mysterious characters (Gustave Flaubert’s “A Simple Soul”) and purgatorial plots (Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”) more common types of fiction tend to abhor. At its all-too-rare best, a novella can trick a reader into caring less about a story per se than its aura, so to speak: a persistent state of grace (or lack thereof) whose inevitable burnout allows for a unique fictive torque. A bad novella, by contrast, can feel perverse, coming on like rambling short fiction or, worse, a novel caught in utero; even at its most inspired, the novella’s liminal existence often demands a bit of literary MacGuyvering to come off.

The Extra-Large Baltimore Lit Parade for December: John Barth, Stephen Dixon, Justin Sirois, Jen Michalski, and More Greats!

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John Barth
John Barth

IVY10-e1350927055992We’re pleased to present writer Joseph Martin’s The Ivy Bookshop-sponsored column for the Baltimore Fishbowl, “The Lit Parade,” a celebration and thoughtful examination of the epic local lit scene that too often goes unreported, unread.

Once again, we’re at the (briefly) snow-covered tail end of a year’s worth of reading, and this particular annum has been a doozy – from brainy juvenilia revisions to collections of darkly funny riffs, serial novels about truly killer apps, small-run poetry chapbooks, and at least one sorely needed history of Charm City’s booze trade, 2012 has given fans of local lit a veritable Santa’s sack of new, distinctive writing.  That in mind, this month’s Lit Parade is devoted to excavating some stuff you may have missed and giving some Baltimore Fishbowl favorites another round of praise.  Let the lists commence:

The Baltimore Lit Parade for October: Three Troubled Policemen, “13 Girls,” and van den Berg’s Scary-Good Book Deal

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Just in time for Halloween, the second installment of writer Joseph Martin’s column features bloody true-crime fiction by local authors, WORMS, and more frightfully cool lit scene news.

Much as we tend to play up our Hon Blievers, Book Things, and park-laden, neurosis-free psyche, few towns teem with morbid curiosity quite like Charm City.  From Mr. Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade up through David Simon’s “The Wire” cast and The Sun’s exquisite police blotter, Baltimore has long produced fictive body exhumers and, perhaps more, an audience smitten with the dusty, matchlit corners of criminal activity.  White flight, abandoned neighborhoods, and a lately discarded status as America’s murder capital underpin residents’ understanding of home; unsurprisingly, a rabid local market exists for true crime and its clinical, fact-bearing explication. Building on its author’s near-decade in the local police department, Michael A. Wood, Jr.’s Eliot (self-published) honors that curiosity, hitting very Baltimorean forensic notes even as it serves up a shaggy genre thriller.

The Baltimore Lit Parade for September: “Big Ray,” & Bold New Poetry

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We’re pleased to present writer Joseph Martin’s new Ivy Bookshop-sponsored column for the Baltimore Fishbowl, “The Lit Parade,” a celebration and thoughtful examination of the epic local lit scene that too often goes unreported, unread.

“For my dead dad” reads the dedication to local novelist Michael Kimball’s excellent new book, Big Ray (Bloomsbury) – a heavy, final-sounding thud of a phrase if there ever was one.  And why not?  After four novels stuffed with death, familial friction, and an almost scientific interest in the protocol for (and detritus of) relationships, Big Ray feels like the end product of a long, difficult birthing process, a merger between the post-suicide bricolage of 2008’s Dear Everybody (Alma Books) and the slow, procedural mortality of 2011’s Us (Tyrant Books).  Like those books, Ray presents a precise catalog of mourning; skipping their likeable victims, however, the novel instead turns its fictive eye on an unsympathetic corpse – an abusive, selfish father – allowing Kimball to write with a previously untapped range of emotion and intimacy.

Remington Rising: Neighborhood Sees Change

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Contributor Joseph Martin, a Remington resident, analyzes the Baltimore neighborhood’s controversial conversion.

Baltimore’s love for urban rehab can feel unseemly; veil of chic aside, Woodberry’s broken windows still conjure the blight of hard times past.  But neighborhood reboots also do a world of good, often throwing each area’s innate style and aspirations into sharp relief.  When the Inner Harbor and Harbor East began to rebuild, they peppered the waterfront with tourist bait, such as swank cineplexes and paycheck-chewing eateries.  Meanwhile, Hampden and Fells Point have both staged boutique revolutions, transforming their quiet storefront strips into bustling meccas of quirk and class.

Still, some neighborhoods beg a subtler facelift than others – Remington, for example.  A residential salad of schools, parks, and playgrounds built around a core of auto shops, the area has long been a model of nondescript living, housing blue-collar families and lifers, as well as a persistent (if nonviolent) mix of daylight drug deals and boarded buildings.  Neither a Wire-style war zone nor a bustling nexus of commerce, Remington kept to itself.  So when gluten-free bakery Sweet Sin arrived in 2010, it raised many a local eyebrow.

Valentine’s Reservations: What Guys Want and Need from February 14th

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For a holiday named after a condemned priest — in Catholic records, one “Valentinus the Presbyter,” a man sentenced to death for marrying young couples during Roman emperor Claudius II’s second century lockdown on marriage — Valentine’s Day still somehow conjures the warm fuzzies like no other.  While most holidays still retain some clear-cut religious or political content, Valentinus’ evolution into a secular figure may have produced the least somber, most life-affirming memorial of them all: an annual excuse to brandish flowers, write love letters, and eat at a prohibitively fancy restaurant with someone you love.

Still, as national celebrations go, February 14th has long been a psychic sweatbox for the male gender, and not just because its baubles and sweet treats hearken back to a whole Shakespearean universe of courtly love, hetero-normative affection, and members of the landed male gentry flashing their cash.  Unlike other gift-oriented holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day’s popular expectations tends to be pretty stark, begging expensive default romance (flowers, chocolate, and jewelry) from men while encouraging passive acceptance and implacable expectations from women.  Three waves deep into feminism, it’s hard to defend V-Day’s usual portrayal as a one-way social street.

According to Baltimore psychologist Ann-Marie Codori, part of the problem is the holiday’s limited view of affection.  A couples therapist who deals with long-term relationships, she suggests the holiday’s yellowing tropes amount to a fundamental misunderstanding of what love requires.

“We have a hard-wired need to feel safe and secure with someone,” explains Codori.  

She, meanwhile, winces at Valentine’s Day’s emphasis on romance, pointing out that each gender has roughly the same emotional needs.  

“Anniversaries are important,” the psychologist says.  “But once relationships are established, romance is not a huge issue.  What tend to be bigger issues are things like feeling important, feeling like you matter, feeling like you come first.”  

In lieu of V-Day’s enforced romantic attention, Codori recommends something more direct. “The best way to express your love is just to say it,” she says.  “The words are less important than having an emotion attached to the words.”

Of course, basic human needs aside, most Valentine’s Day enthusiasts — this author included — cherish the holiday as a flimsy pretext for going overboard.  For us, DC Matchmaking and Coaching owner Michelle Jacoby suggests staying the usual gifty course while also understanding the holiday’s romantic overtones as a team effort.

“Women usually expect gifts and don’t often think about what to give the man,” she says.  “A lot of guys put a lot of thought into Valentine’s Day, and I think sometimes they feel a lot of pressure.  I think it should be fifty-fifty.  It doesn’t have to be about spending money, either.  It would be really nice if a busy executive woman took off work early or cooked her man dinner, right?”  

Jacoby warns that expecting an expensive V-Day to fix months of neglect can be a deal breaker for either gender, particularly if things are already on the rocks. Recently engaged, she suggests sticking to a routine of daily relationship maintenance instead of betting the proverbial farm on a high-stakes holiday.

“When you’re in a relationship, you should wake up every day and ask, ‘What can I do to make my partner feel special?’,” she says. “Men just want what women want.  They want your attention and they want your thoughtfulness and affection.  They want us to completely appreciate and accept their gestures, whatever they might be.  Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate your relationships, whether they’re your friendships, your family, or this person you’re in love with.”
Jeff Colosino, a local poet, agrees.  In his mid-20s and raised, like much of his generation, on Eve Ensler and egalitarianism, Colosino joined his girlfriend in hijacking Valentine’s Day long ago, upending its rulebook by creating their own: an unsexy, hosted meal of turkey loaf, banana pudding, and creamed corn casserole with close friends and family.  What began as a shared in-joke blossomed into an annual custom.

“I don’t know if anyone I know truly does do Valentine’s Day in a ‘normal’ way, the way you see it in a commercial for jewelry,” he says.  “Something about my age group, it’s just something we make fun of.  We distance ourselves from Valentine’s Day but, in our irreverent acknowledgement, we celebrate it.  We’re still spending it with people we love, even if that’s the ‘extended family’ of people we love and not the narrow romantic version.”

Ironic as Colosino’s tradition appears, though, its relaxed, glib mood has helped him see Valentine’s Day’s potential for bringing people together.   It’s an interpretation worthy of Valentinus himself.

“It’s not a mockery,” he says.  “A mockery of the day would be doing nothing at all.  And it wouldn’t be okay for us not to be with each other Valentine’s Day.  It’s still important that we take some time to recognize each other on that day.”  He laughs.  “In that regard, Valentine’s Day has won.”

Bending the Rules: Is Yoga Selling Out?

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It took a few thousand years, but the art of yoga finally achieved a goal worthy of the Kardashians: It became a bona fide American fad.  Riding a wave of green economics and globalism, the practice — a series of poses and breathing exercises meant to calm, restore, and sculpt a healthy (and, yes, beach-ready) bod — seems to have shaken its New Age stigma and caught on with the great unwashed.  Many gyms offer yoga or hybridized “yoga fit” classes; Bikram Choudhry, the first instructor ever to franchise a style, has banked millions with his Bikram Yoga studios, charging teachers a $10,000 fee and drawing in curious folks with his über-stretchy “hot yoga.”  According to The Huffington Post, the ancient Indian tradition now nets seven billion dollars annually.  Origins aside, yoga has become a lucrative industry.

Still, success breeds scandal, and yoga — long the province of spiritual seekers looking to unite mind and body — has seen an unseemly share of litigation of late.  Just last month, Choudhry aggressively sued a New York yogi who borrowed his steamy studios and patented sequence of poses; in 2010, Korean Dahn Yoga exemplar Iche Lee was sued for running a “cult.”  

For Baltimore’s longtime yogis, the surge in moneyed interest has been confusing.

“About eight years ago, I suddenly looked up and realized there were more than three local yoga studios,” says Suzy Pennington, owner of Timonium’s Susquehanna Yoga.  A longtime practitioner of the tough Iyengar style (the “Harvard of yoga,” she opines), Pennington opened her studio 15 years ago for utilitarian reasons: There were only about two serious instructors in the area, including Greater Baltimore Yoga’s Stan Andrzewski and now retired Columbia yogi Bob Glickstein.  Though she has an MBA from Johns Hopkins, Pennington claims she was shocked by other studios’ approach to the practice.  

“I called them up and tried to make friends because, in my opinion, it wasn’t a competitive thing,” she says.  “We were all in it together.  It was never a business for me, more of a personal quest.  But a couple of them approached it from a business end.  ‘We’re in it for the money, honey.’  People were starting out with business plans and bank accounts.”

Jayne Bernasconi, co-owner of the recently opened Yoga on York, sympathizes.  Splitting the difference between her day jobs teaching yoga at Towson University and directing the local Air Dance Bernasconi dance troupe, she helped developed a style of “aerial yoga” circa 2002. When a former student trademarked her work, she felt uneasy and a little burned.  “I don’t believe in franchising,” she says.  “[But] one of my students started doing teacher trainings and getting credit for being [aerial yoga’s] inventor.”  The student, Laura Camp, said she hadn’t trademarked the practice, just a name: “flying yoga.”  But it still shook Bernasconi.  “I didn’t know how it was going to grow and expand.  I feel like it should just be out there for anybody, like yoga is out there for anybody.” 

While most locals tend to write off intellectual property concerns as theater, though, other criticisms have stuck further in their respective craws — particularly the growing sense that yoga, for all its benefits, may be dangerous.  A week ago, the New York Times Magazine published a piece titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” featuring a seasoned yogi, Omega Institute teacher Glenn Black, claiming “the vast majority of people” should drop yoga because of its health risks.  

Kim Manfredi, owner of Charm City Yoga’s five studios and a 20-plus year instructor, blanches at the criticism.

“Every teacher in my studio is anatomy-based,” she says, noting the yoga world’s stringent self-regulation.  Beyond the base-level efforts of the Yoga Alliance, a nationwide coalition that enforces competence among working yoga teachers, Manfredi suggests that individual studios necessarily avoid negligence to avoid lawsuits.  “Ramadan Patel, a famous Iyengar teacher, once said, ‘I’ve been to the floor and back and God is not there,’” she says.  “For a younger population, a more vigorous yoga is applicable.  As you get older, it’s less so.  A teacher needs to be flexible in their teaching to serve a larger population.”

Manfredi, who runs five studios, seems built for the new landscape; holding no loyalty to a particular tradition, she admits it’s easy to feel sanguine about the flexibility demanded by a new market.  But Pennington, who started her teaching career serving a late-80s mélange of health food store attics and (no kidding) Mexican expat towns, has long refused even to offer liability waivers, instead asking personal responsibility from her students.  An “old style” yoga teacher, she says the rise of a yoga-industrial complex worries her.

“We’re getting the injuries from ‘yoga’ fit and Bikram,” she says.  “You heat up the room, anybody can do those strange poses, even if they’re not ready.  It’s become dangerous out there.”  Pennington attributes the new injuries to a fundamental misunderstanding of the art. “The new yoga teacher is a 20-something, beautiful woman with yoga bod and she’s doing a very nice-looking handstand on a beer keg,” she says.  “They’re not getting the true meaning of yoga.”

But despite the dangers within and -out of using the practice as a glorified exercise routine, local yoga teachers believe its long-lived spiritual foundations will survive any current notoriety.

“People don’t seem to want the spiritual side of it,” Bernasconi says.  “But what yoga releases is not only your muscles, but your emotions, layers of toxins and crap built up in your body. Eventually they will come in through the backdoor, go deeper inside their bodies.  It’s just your mindfulness in how you approach things.  You get what you put into it.”

AND THEY CALLED IT SENIOR LOVE

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In the pet world, stumbling puppies and tottering kittens get plenty of play; after all, it’s hard to argue with a little lapful of helpless fur. Some would claim that pets get even more lovable as they get older–Lauren Bond, for example. A trainer at B-More Charming obedience school, behavioralist/food expert at Howl pet store, and owner of a nine-year-old Border Collie, Bond can’t help but make a case for the animal kingdom’s elder statesmen and -women. 

“You lose a lot of that tough stuff about owning a dog if you adopt or own a senior dog,” she says. “They like to lay on the couch and go on relaxing walks. On some level, they need less from their people.”

Marlyand SPCA vet Dr. Cristina Mollenkopf, DVM, agrees, with a caveat.

“The most common reason people adopt an older pet is companionship, with the benefit that the animal is probably already housebroken, less likely to be destructive, already knows [its] name and some basic commands, and will be calmer than a puppy or kitten,” she notes by e-mail. “The thing people should consider is that they may need more medical care.”

That’s where the America Veterinary Health Association’s Senior Pet Health Care Month comes in: running through September, the event draws attention to our animal buddies’ needs as they reach middle age and beyond. To celebrate the occasion, we spoke with an array of veterinarians and pet professionals to get some tips on helping the aged and cuddly.

• Keep your pet close, but your vet closer.

Unless you’re Dr. Doolittle, there’s a good chance your animal will never mention its internal maladies to you. The solution?

“Be your pet’s advocate,” says Falls Road Animal Hospital owner Dr. Kim Hammond, DVM.  Hammond, who started the hospital in 1981, recently lost a dog to old age and emphasized giving elderly animals the same yearly physical and blood tests one would assign a human. “They’re not going to come out and tell you that their teeth hurt or their bones ache or they have arthritis,” he says.  “Be proactive.”

Mollenkopf agrees. “There are almost as many specialties in veterinary medicine as in the human field.  So a dog with hip dysplasia can have a hip replacement. A veterinary opthamologist can do cataract surgery.  Just as with people, regular check ups are important.”

• The best defense is a good dinner.

In the late ‘80s, cats’ life expectancies nearly doubled–from one decade to two–when scientists realized dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a common feline death sentence, stemmed from a lack of the amino acid taurine in supermarket cat food. Thus began a zeitgeist of high-end animal food, all following improved American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. Dr. Hammond applauds the new landscape, suggesting that pet owners look for AAFCO’s rigorously tested “complete and balanced” seal on pet food packages.

“In the olden days, we were reactive,” Hammond says.  “Now we try to prevent animals from getting sick. It’s an equation: proper nutrition plus an expert who can tell you, ‘Gosh, there might be some genetic factors involved, too.’ Whether it’s rodents or humans, it’s all about nutrition and husbandry.”  By the same token, he cautions owners to be wary of dietary fads.  “Raw food is in vogue, but it’s not the smartest thing–it’s more marketing than science,” he says.  “Raw meat can overload the kidneys with protein.  It’s very much not balanced.”

• When it comes to life, quality beats quantity.

“It really is a blessing that we can let our animals go when their quality of life gets worse,” Bond says. “We can say enough is enough.”

It’s a sentiment echoed across the board in the veterinary community.  “The last thing we want is an animal hanging out and not really enjoying anything,” Falls Road vet Dr. Keisha Adkins, DVM, says.  Though she notes the decision should always be up to the owner, she proposes a rule of thumb in considering the heavy topic of euthanasia: “Think back about six months about what the animal enjoyed–eating, playing, and so on.  If they’re starting to not enjoy those activities anymore, then it’s time to start thinking about it.”

• Oh, and you can teach a dog new tricks.

Meds and vet visits of the golden years aside, Bond wants to be clear: Like a Boomer uncle taking up golf in retirement, your pet’s still got plenty of life in it–it’s just a bit more relaxed.  Don’t consign it to couch potato status quite yet.

“They’re content to do less,” she says.  “But animals can be trained until their cerebral cortex stops working or they stop eating.  Until it breathes its last breath, your pet’s still learning things.”

Survival of the Lit-est

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For those hoisting metaphorical “End Is Nigh” signs near their local indie bookstores, 2011’s been positively Revelations-worthy: In Baltimore alone, local clearinghouse Daedelus Books dropped its Belvedere Square location after five years and Borders, the long-suffering and debt-ridden Pepsi to Barnes & Noble’s dominating Coke, liquidated; its Timonium location will close by the end of September.  Factor in the ebook market, rife with shiny Amazon Kindles and smartphones, and it’s all enough to drive a small bookseller into full-blown panic. 
Or, at the very least, to defensive irony.

“The commercials for the Kindle crack me up,” says Normal’s Books and Records owner Rupert Wondolowski, who opened the store with a crowd of artist and writer friends in 1990.  Faced with the threat of technology, he did what any artist-by-night might do: He leaned on satire, pasting “anti-Kindle” propaganda around the store and having a themed sale every Friday. “‘No glare!  It’s so light!’  A used book’s not putting up much of a glare.  And how many weaklings can’t pick up a paperback?”

Of course, among local indies the Kindle features more as a scapegoat–used books are still “way cheaper than the Kindle versions,” Wondolowski points out, and The Baltimore Sun’s Jay Hancock documented booksellers’ sheepish backpedaling from the Kindle-borne e-book scare just last week.  “Even back in 1982, when I started in used books, people were saying the computer was going to screw us,” Wondolowski says.  More pressing?  “There’s also the complete collapse of the global economy.  It’s not so bad yet. You’ll know things are rough when we’re having a 50 percent sale.”

Still, all that tech upheaval provides a tidy symbol for the hostile environment facing bookstores of late.  While some locals–The Ivy Bookshop and Hunt Valley’s Greetings & Readings both spring to mind–are managing to thrive via niche followings, peoples’ reading habits are slowly changing and, clever sales aside, much of the local market has taken some drastic measures to stay in the black.  On Normal’s 21st birthday, for example, the store received an uneasy gift of charity: a benefit concert at the Golden West restaurant via a number of its musician regulars.  (“It was a nice cash infusion for the slow summer months,” Wondolowski admits.)  And Ukazoo Books, a new and used store in Towson, took the 50 percent sale concept as a challenge, loss-leading its way to the bank this June by selling books as low as $1.49 a pop.  But manager Edward Whitfill, who came up with the idea, spins these counterintuitive sales events as a sort of business Darwinism.

“People bought books to give away,” he says of his sale.  “At this point, we’re an instant gratification society.  Will there be room for everybody?  No.  But [Borders’ closing] is probably doing a correction in the size of the market.  They had a lot of debt.  You can blame new technology, but when you’re servicing debt, you can’t explore new stuff.”

Ukazoo, which opened a storefront in 2007 when its owners’ online bookselling service became too big to be legal, has reason to look at marketing innovation as adaptability.  But other locals are more circumspect.  In Hancock’s Sun article, Atomic Books co-owner Benn Ray notes that Borders’ closing is “in nobody’s interest,” citing “repercussions” that may include publishers printing even smaller runs of their quirkier, more under the radar work–for many indie bookstores, the lifeblood of the business.  And Michael Cantor, who founded Salamander Books in the late 1990s and relocated the shop from Hampden to Mount Vernon last year, goes even further, suggesting his livelihood is up against a more permanent change in the culture.

“Books aren’t the go-to for the lay public anymore,” he says.  “ You used to get on the train and there would be a book in 75 percent of the peoples’ hands.  Now they have laptops.  It connects their brains in a similar way, but there’s nothing residual afterwards. You can always press the button or flip the switch.  That’s very attractive.”

Cantor hesitates to dismiss the web out of hand, though.  “Something like Borders’ closing was about the economy,” he says.  “How much does it cost to air-condition a place like that?”  By comparison, he points to the small used business’s many options, including online marketplaces like Amazon.com and ABE Books.  Both have become secret weapons for Salamander and its cohort–places where they can defray dry spells and peddle their wares.  But when asked about long-term survival, he still leans towards community presence.

“At this point, I see the book business not necessarily making the money I need to get by,” Cantor says.  “But it’s not worth ditching it. People want to go to places where they have a connection with the people running them.  Those who think and create are always in search of other individuals.”

It’s a position shared by Wondolowski.

“These are definitely frightening times,” he says.  “But lately I’ve been having a lot of nice, emotional conversations with people who love bookstores.  They may die out for a while, but then where do you go when you’re not on your computer?  The pendulum will swing back.”

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