The Camp Vamp: Katrina Fox

Commentary on GLBTIQ issues, social justice and some of life's quirks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Time to read

I got an email recently informing me that Gay’s the Word is thinking of closing down. Gay’s the Word is Britain’s equivalent to The Bookshop, Darlinghurst: a Mecca of GLBTIQ literature. I felt sad because I remember walking past it seven or eight times before plucking up the courage to go in during my coming-out days – unlike The Bookshop’s subtle signage, Gay’s the Word’s title says it all, and just to make absolutely sure there are no misunderstandings, it proclaims underneath ‘Gay and Lesbian Bookshop’.

Happily I got over myself, went inside and came out with a ‘Femme on the Streets, Butch in the Sheets’ t-shirt (which isn’t strictly true but I liked how it sounded) and the requisite lesbian jewellery. From then on, I spent many an afternoon browsing the shelves here and in Silver Moon Women’s Bookshop, which closed down a few years ago after two decades of providing dykes and feminists with a rich collection of reading material. Silver Moon suffered from soaring rents, while Gay’s the Word says it is “struggling financially”, mainly due to mainstream bookstores stocking GLBTIQ books and their availability from online booksellers.

So, nostalgia aside, do we still need our community bookshops? Some people, including queer celebrity authors Sarah Waters and Edmund White, think so. Waters told The Times newspaper she could “never have produced fiction of my own if Gay’s the Word hadn’t been there first, supplying other gay writers’ work”, while White said the bookshop is a “cultural centre” that must remain open. Jeanette Winterson, on the other hand, told the same newspaper that “Gay’s the Word was a brilliant shop but the very fact that it is thinking of closing may mean that its work is done”.

I can see both sides, but perhaps the question, though, should be, ‘Do we still need books?’ Those literary-lovers among you, who, like me, may enjoy immersing yourself in non-fiction that expands your mind with new ideas, or losing yourself in a novel, will no doubt scream ‘Of course we do!’ But when I hear constantly from young gay men (I’m sure there are lesbians out there too as well as young people in general) the phrase ‘I don’t read’, I wonder if the written word is on its way out. Text messages bastardising spelling and grammar do little to preserve the beauty of language, and reality TV shows like Big Brother have taken the place of the classics on the school curriculum (post-modernism has so much to answer for).

One company in the US, however, has capitalised on society’s obsession with fame and ironically brought it back to the written word. Book By You offers people the chance to star in their own personalised novel – romance, western, pirate, vampire. You co-author the book by supplying the names, features and places and can even have your own photo on the jacket. Of course, the set plots to date are all geared towards straights, which means there’s a gap in the marketplace for a queer version. Maybe they can stock them in Gay’s the Word.

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