Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

It was obvious long before Borders went for a date with St Peter that the establishment we know as the book shop is on its way to heaven. Between the might and magic of Amazon and the game changing concept of ebooks, not much wiggle room is left for your friendly neighbourhood shop. So no, I was not surprised to read yesterday that a famous San Francisco book shop is closing down, although I will admit the reason – being unable to pay its employees the minimum wage now that the minimum wage has been raised – did make me feel for the average American employee. Stuff that the people of other countries take for granted, like leave days and a decent salary for doing one's job, seem to be a bonus in the Land of the Free.
The news did make me reflect on the book shops of my childhood. One of them, Mr Hyde Books, still stands erect at Israel. I even paid it a visit last year.


At its day, Mr Hyde claimed to be the biggest book store in Israel (actually, the sign in the above photo still makes the claim). In my memories it is still a gigantic venue, the hall of many a great childhood memories. Mr Hyde was where I bought my copy of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, a cornerstone book in the genre of science fiction and a very influential book as far as this blogger’s imagination is concerned. Mr Hyde was the place I could get my copies of Mad Magazine, including two issues whose memory will remain forever etched in my head – the one featuring Inbanana Jones and the Temple of Goons and the one featuring Top Gunk.
So yes, I was curious to see what’s going on in that giant hall of fame nowadays. I got my chance last year and went in.
Gone was the giant book shop of my memories. Yes, I know I am influenced by the standards of scale of Australian shops, but that "biggest book store in Israel" looked small! I guess the worst thing about it was not the size; it was the fact this was no longer a book store, at least not what I would call a book store. Shelves that used to host the best of human imagination now store junk one would expect to find at a $2 shop; the few shelves that are dedicated for books host used books, to be bought and sold in bulk for next to nothing.
Hall of fame turned out to be more like a hole of fame. Then again, as a regular shopper at your local Amazon or Book Depository, and as an avid consumer of ebooks that now considers paper an abomination, who am I to complain? I cannot mourn the loss of the book store when I represent the very reason for its extinction. Yet I still do.

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