Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2010 Issue

Bolerium - Bookselling as Performance Art


Narrow aisles and broad ambitions

The pamphlets and ephemera on the left wall are interesting. Communist literature from the '40s makes nice with social commentary in the '90s , shares open files with labor speeches, government documents, and the NAACP. The official description according to the store map lists American Labor & Radical History as a topic in this section, but such topics are shade trees under which exceptions prove the rule. It's an interesting mix. John explains it this way, "On the left we're known." The Birch Society does not hold its meetings here.

In this shop a sawbuck will get one or two items and some interesting conversation. Here, you can feel like your parents' experience is the stuff of history, not the landfill. Here, generational and historical perspective hove into view. Just two floors below, the world feels two-dimensional. Here depth and implied purpose ride shotgun over random material that, sorted by subject, becomes contemporary narrative presented as collectible fields. The currency in this bookstore is information; the twin requisites for successful participation intelligence and curiosity. You come here to get a book. You get repartee on the house.

This is the new face of bookselling and book collecting; where affordable collectable material of the 20th century is offered in the 21st century in a setting out of Charles Dickens with shades of Hogarth and decor by vente de garage. For those who enter, it helps to be smart, wry allusions suffuse the place, bon mots fly by at the speed of light. If you think the world is a murky place, your key will fit into their front door. Here you seek clarity by first staring into dark corners.

Standing back a bit, this is bookselling as performance art. It works.

Bolerium Books

2141 Mission
No. 300
San Francisco, California 94110


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