What Do You Say to a Shadow?

Can you believe that we are north of somewhere, considering the slice of weather during this time of year? It is a comfortable respite in here, I must say. It makes sense, of course. You cannot have covers bending and pages succumbing to foxing and browning from sustained heat and humidity. Such book damage would surely not be good for business. Don’t worry, by the way. I have not stopped in for several years, it has probably even been a decade back, but I am not the kind of person who walks in, gushes over loving the smell of books, but never buys anything, and darts back out the door in less than a minute. Neither will I awkwardly joke if you have read everything in the shop or expect, with matter of fact forwardness, you to show me the most monetarily valuable title, as if vellum is suitable handling for casual browsing. The wariness on your face is palpable, but let me affirm that I am a local and have had a small business in the Quarter for several years.

Job Lot Cheap, 1878
(Oil on canvas, 18 x 36″)
BY William M. Harnett
Reynolda House, Museum of Art

It is amusing to recall the fellow working the last time I stopped in. I will never forget him, Mr. Soren, for he truly was such a sniffy man. He surely still is, wherever he presently happens to be hanging his hat, the kind of person who has drawn all of his opinions and pithy quotes from that week’s issue of The New Yorker and has nourished himself as a peevish blend of the pompous and pedantic. I suspect that I am not the only person whose distaste for Mr. Soren is yet lingering. Interestingly his attitude appeared to be that of toleration, as if he thought me too familiar, uncool enough, despite the subject of Goethe, by stooping to the infernal monologue, unorthodox interior made external, ultimate purist aloud. Perhaps though, this version of discourse, for better or worse, actually has bridged to the future in some manner. Conversations no longer seem to have much merit, and that is assuming there is even the desire or ability to conduct them. Monologues also have been devalued, for that matter, what with the prevailing dialect born of hearty frivolity and limited pursuits, but at least monologues provide the possibility for unbroken thoughtful content. At least the speaker is straightaway permitted, no, obliged, to affirm and sustain a sense of personal belief, whether suitably affable or outright worthy of no more than exasperated disdain. Perhaps the degradation and atrophy of written exchange has brought spoken exchange tumbling down with it. Brevity may as well be a bumper sticker. These self-limiting creatures do not seem to know how to connect, much less speak or be spoken to, anymore. Can we then expect anything beyond just a feeble exchange of monologues? Someone like Mr. Soren was hiding in the glib, the hypothetical, the language of caprice, an example of how vanity fared, but even he was more plausibly human, however tiresome, than the present-day blank majority. It almost makes one long for a few more chattering loitering wastrels for balance, prickly but at least alive with spirit. I must seem severe to you, young man, but a deepening cultural regression or erosion of thought running roughshod over the infant-sized steps of progress looks to be apparent, what with my advantage of a few generations.

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