Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption

Laura J. Miller, Author . Univ. of Chicago $35 (316p) ISBN 978-0-226-52590-7

Though independent booksellers may believe they already understand all that there is to know about maintaining the delicate balance between economic success and cultural integrity, those who dip into Miller's impressive examination will find their curiosity well rewarded. Miller's historical analysis reveals, for example, how independent booksellers' opposition to mass market competitors has shifted dramatically. Nearly a century ago, when department stores and five-and-dimes began selling books, the owners of established bookstores insisted that large commercial enterprises couldn't guide customers to suitably uplifting reading material. As the cultural elitism behind this argument became unpalatable, the indies changed their tune, claiming that superstores were laying down homogenized inventories that stifled intellectual diversity. Miller also discusses the internal pressures that led the American Booksellers Association to adopt a more activist stance toward the chains in recent years. One of the book's few disappointments is a closing chapter on consumption as political choice, which never quite explains how such choices operate. But that's a rare ambiguity in this otherwise carefully articulated investigation. (Apr.)

Look for PW's upcoming q&a with Laura J. Miller.

Reviewed on: 02/06/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
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