This past weekend, a post by Scott James in the Bay Citizen tipped me off to the rumor that San Francisco’s venerable LGBT bookstore, A Different Light, will likely be closing down this spring. It’s one of the only LGBT bookstores left in the U.S., so its closing, in addition to being significant for many in the San Francisco community, is a hallmark of the collapse of independent and specialty bookstores nationwide.
Modern Times, a great independent and progressive but general-interest bookstore not far away in the Mission, has lost their lease and is closing, albeit, they say, only temporarily. In a widely repeated story that never fails to bring LOLZ among my friends, a Modern Times staffer supposedly once told a customer they didn’t stock Ayn Rand books “on political grounds.”
I won’t claim the Modern Times story about not stocking the right-wing Cato Institute’s spiritual godmommy Ayn Rand isn’t apocryphal, because at this point I can’t remember who said it. But if it is apocryphal, it’s by accident, not by design. Modern Times is an explicitly progressive and aggressively opinionated bookstore with a robust selection of left-wing political treatises, race and class deconstructions and prison literature — in addition to plenty of radical queer texts.
While I imagine some of Rand’s more clueless followers might howl and sob against liberal “censorship” at a store like MT or claim that it’s a “slippery slope” from not stocking Rand to burning Korans, they’d be full of it. Bookstores with agendas choose what to stock. They reflect not just their clientele, but the world they wish to build. In selecting what texts to stock, they create a worldview that attracts the like-minded and helps educate the not-yet-like-minded. All bookstores are political; most of them just don’t know it.
What do we make, then, of A Different Light, a gay bookstore unable to survive on the Gayest Block in the Universe?