On genre, disorientation, and discovery

Jump to: Genres at Perelandra

We’re not sure exactly how many titles inhabit Perelandra at a given moment—the number hovers around 1,500—but it’s safe to say that our collection is fairly small (compared to most bookstores). Small poses interesting challenges for a brick-and-mortar shop whose trade is premised on intellectual/emotional expansion. But this begs the question: what does it really mean to expand?

We take it for granted that books expand the mind, but this may be an irresponsible (or at least incomplete) way of understanding the act of reading/the search for written material. If words were mere data points, then we could surmise that reading a book would be a simple matter of accumulating information. But we know that this isn’t what happens, even if it is what many of us hope to do.

In reading, one gets the feeling that something is in development; the words are fixed in place, but contemplation/comprehension dislodges them from the security of the sentence or line and brings them to life in the space between reader and author. That development should be coequal with expansion seems a thought limited to and by the colonial imagination (if that is what it can be called). We live in bounded bodies—does this preclude our development as human beings?

What is it we look for when we enter a bookstore? Can a small space be an expanse? How do organizational concepts like names and genres narrow or broaden our sense of what is possible? What are the lies that colonialism teaches?

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Recently, Indigo and I arrived at a set of open-ended qualifiers for the shelves and their textual inhabitants, hoping to honor their differences while compounding their correspondences. The following reflects the order in which you would physically encounter Perelandra’s sections should you enter the shop and wander in a clockwise manner; we hope that they guide gently enough to invite familiarity and surprise:

  • Radical Imagination – Roughly corresponding to fantasy and sci-fi; we start here because something of the radical imagination carries through everything the bookstore contains. Leans into:
  • Living by Fiction – Literary fiction and classics; taken directly from the title of Annie Dillard’s book on writing, we feel that it invokes the way in which people, places, and things truly come alive in the novel. Leans into:
  • Ritualistic Utterance – Poetry and poetics; this ties to ideas of practice and orality, two things that seem fundamental to poetry, as complicated and occasionally obscure as the genre tends to be. Leans into:
  • Deep Story – Non-fiction inclined towards topics of broad social relevance: decolonial & feminist theory, object studies, philosophy of mind, popular scholarship, cosmology, etc. Leans into:
  • Archetypes & Cosmos – Mythology in broad strokes, e.g. comparative history, psychology, paganism, astrology, tarot, the esoteric & the occult. Leans into:
  • Wolverine Farm – Journals and titles published by Wolverine Farm, the non-profit patron whose ethos of blending the wild and the civil (disobedience and compassion) forms the creative hub. Leans into:
  • Western Philosophy – Religious thought loosely centered on Judeo-Christian traditions, interreligious discourse, and spiritual testament. Leans into:
  • Eastern Philosophy – Zen, Shambhala/Tibetan Buddhist and Confucian philosophy, accompanied by case studies in history, practice, dharma art; Leans into:
  • Second Nature – Natural history, ecopoetics, human-animal relations, travel; taken directly from the title of local poet Jack Collom’s 2013 Colorado Book Award-winning collection of poetry and essays. Leans into:
  • Memory Castles – Biography, memoir, and character studies, punctuated with more personal reflections on the human individual in society. Returning to:

Radical imagination—what does this mean? In his article exploring divergent attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccine, The Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson ends on a devastating thought: “The United States suffers from a deficit of imagining the lives of other people.” A radical solution is needed.

Maybe what we need from literature is radical invitation to complement radical imagination. Maybe the continued existence of community-scale bookstores is just what the doctor ordered.

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