Disorientation and discovery in the shop

We’re not sure exactly how many titles inhabit Perelandra at a given moment—the number hovers around 1,000—but it’s safe to say that our collection is fairly small compared to most bookstores. Small is, of course, nothing new for specialized collections, with many an antiquarian or genre-specific bookstore thriving in this age of the digital marketplace. But Perelandra is rather small and general!

It feels less common for small collections to exist, let alone succeed (i.e. to be relevant for a community) in a physical space. Something about a “general interest” collection implies that the odds of finding any given subject are good, which would seem to necessitate keeping a minimum number of available titles. But is generalization coequal with greater size? Is specialization coequal with lesser?

At/in/on Perelandra, we find ourselves navigating an abundance of interests within a special, often scholarly or theoretically-focused set of options. Constantly observing the blurry lines of genre, we recently arrived at a set of open-ended qualifiers for the shelves and their literary inhabitants, hoping that these guide gently enough to invite surprise and discovery:

(The following sections appear in the order in which you would encounter them should you enter the bookshop and explore the shelves in a loosely clockwise manner)

  • 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 felt 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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