Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reason #241A why Labyrinth does not win at life

As I was walking down Nassau, I saw a woman who kinda looked like Toni Morisson. She may or may not have been Toni Morisson. I have no idea. But that got me thinking about a discussion we had had in my HIS 400 seminar about whether or not one could take Toni Morisson’s novels to be primary sources when writing about African Americans history. The answer in my head was “Of course. All the histories about Princeton use This Side of Paradise as a source about what daily life was like at Princeton while Scottie-boy was here.” (Ok, so I didn’t really call him Scottie-boy…)

Then I thought: “I’ve never read This Side of Paradise.” And, because it’s not like I have two finals that I really need to study for, I decided to go into Labyrinth and pick up a copy. Mistake #1. On my way over to the Literature section, I ran across a copy of The Prince on one of the Sale Books tables. “Hmm,” I thought, “I should read that in Italian.” So, I went down to the basement. Mistake #2. At first I couldn’t find the Italian section, so I asked for help. It turns out that there are only two shelves worth of Italian books at Labyrinth, which in and of itself, wouldn’t be so terrible, if the two shelves weren’t practically empty. Needless to say, they didn’t have the book I was looking for, although I did have a nice conversation with some guy about the fact that Italian doesn’t get no respect. So then I went back up, thinking “Well, at least they’ll have the Fitzgerald book.” That was Mistake #3.


Anonymous said...

I'm mystified by the substance of your three "mistakes."

1. So they carry books in English which they don't carry in the original Italian. Why is this a problem? Short of carrying *every* book in its original language along with its translation, what sort of solution to this problem do you envision? Furthermore, even if they *don't* carry the Italian version of the Prince, why is the fact that they *do* carry the English version problematic for you? The presence of the one in no way exacerbates the absence of the other. "Mistake #1" is both foolish (because they can't carry every book in its original language) and confused (it's not the presence of the English version that irks you, it's the absence of the Italian one).

2. You find fault with the fact Labyrinth has "only two shelves worth" of Italian books. "Only"? Given that there are "only" six Seniors in the Princeton Italian Department (by way of getting at the relative proportions of Italian readers on the Princeton campus), this seems like an optimistic purchasing decision on their part. To take the case of the Prince, I seriously doubt they would sell enough copies of it in Italian over the course of year to justify the necessary shelf-space. More importantly, in comparison to what other bookstore in the United States would "only two shelves" of books in Italian be considered lacking? It's not like Micawber or the U-Store was overflowing with Italian titles. Finally, the most expeditious way to get a copy of the Prince in Italian is to check it out of Firestone. Which is free. "Mistake #2" is unrealistic and unfair.

3. I don't care if Labyrinth doesn't carry This Side of Paradise. The U-Store would probably have dedicated an entire shelf to it, along with crappy murder mysteries which take place in Princeton, etc., and therein lied the problem with that venue. Labyrinth is an academic bookstore selling books geared to an academic community. The fact that they don't carry "This Side of Paradise" in no way detracts from their success as an academic bookstore. "Mistake #3" is ill-aimed and irrelevant.

Speaking for myself, I am completely fine with Labyrinth. Of course I don't have any money and can't afford to spend lavish amounts on books there (at least not regularly), so I use the library for my book-needs. But if I did buys book there (and I do, on occasion), I would be more than satisfied by their offerings. (The high prices aren't Labyrinth's fault -- they're barely breaking even, from what I hear.) And as for the other complaints people typically lob at Labyrinth, I think it's good to consider them in comparison to the poverty of book-selling which existed before Labyrinth. Any way you slice it, Labyrinth is much better than the U-Store or Micawber.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's bad.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Labyrinth has turned out to be a huge disappointment. It's unfortunate when the University has great intentions but fails miserably in the execution. Hurray for Amazon, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, Labyrinth seriously rubs me the wrong way since it's incarnation this year on the lot where Micauwber Books used to reside. Impersonal personnel (heh, etymological irony points!). Missing books-that-should-be-on-any-Princetonian-bookshelf.
Not to mention the general no-browsing rule. What? The only time I've heard about no-browse bookstores was from my parents. Back in Communist China.