Skip to main content

Obituary for an independent book shop

The independent book and stationery shop Bókabúð Máls og menningar has just closed its doors, probably for the last time.

This shop had been situated on the corner of Laugavegur and Vegamótastígur, in the heart of Reykjavík's shopping and entertainment district, for as long as I could remember. It had, in fact, been there since the year I was born, but had been in operation elsewhere since 1940. It was a regular stop for book lovers who were taking a stroll up or down the Laugavegur, and for the last 15 or so years you could sit down in a cosy café on the first floor and enjoy your coffee and Danish while reading a book or a magazine from the book shop.

The shop suffered a serious injury in 2009, when the operation was taken over by new management, and it had been slowly bleeding to death ever since. When the owners of the shop decided to move to a new location due to the extortionate rent being demanded by the new owners of the building, the building owners decided to continue to run a bookshop there, and acquired the rights to the Mál og menning name. However, they failed to realise that the key to running a successful indie bookshop in Reykjavík is to offer a big variety of books. You can get Icelandic books and foreign best-sellers in every bookshop and some supermarkets, but if you are independent you have to sell the Icelandic books at a little bit higher price than the chains and supermarkets can do, so you need to focus strongly on foreign stock. This the new owners failed to do.

The old shop had a large section of foreign books and was famous for its sales, when it unloaded excess stock, but the new shop had a relatively small foreign section, mostly expensive art books and best-sellers. It was still a nice place to visit for a cup of coffee and a browse, but when you wanted to find the latest novel by someone not on the best-seller lists, you went to Iða or Bóksala Stúdenta, or you visited the big Eymundsson shop (aka the Icelandic Barnes & Noble) in Austurstræti. So the shop had really been living a kind of half-life since then, neat and welcoming and full of books, but sorely in need of more visits by more serious book-buyers and fewer by casual browsers.

I am still sad to see it go - it has been such a feature of my book-buying life that it is going to leave a hole. I do hope they have a closing sale so I can visit it one last time.


George said…
We're down to a handful of used bookstores here in Western New York. Buffalo alone used to have over a dozen. The big-box stores like BORDERS and Barnes & Noble killed many of them in the 1990s. Now, the ebook seems to be killing off the rest. Our two giant BORDERS bookstores are still open, but the BORDERS corporation is in bankruptcy. Cozy bookstores will soon be only a fond memory.

Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme