Monday, September 27, 2010

My own Banned Book Story

I worked at Bookstar in Nashville in 1996-1997. At one point a controversy came up about a few photography books that we carried (Thank you, Focus on the Family.) The photographers in dispute were Jock Sturges, David Hamilton, and Sally Mann. They often feature nudes, who sometimes are children. A lot of people were up in arms about this around town. The local paper naturally covered the debate, and they called the national offices of Borders and Barnes & Noble for comments. B&N National made some statement about how it's not our job to police what people read, we're simply in the business of selling books.

Well it is truly shocking how many people did not realize that Barnes & Noble owns Bookstar. I have included a few interior pictures here of different Bookstars - don't they look like chain stores? While the overall theme was different - red, blue, and yellow instead of green and dark wood - we often even had the dark green signs, not to mention our gift certificates and receipts were explicit, and really all you had to do was look around to see the fingerprints of the Riggios all over our store.

For several weeks we had a lot of business. People would come in and ask us if we had those awful pornography books out on the floor. We would honestly tell them no, we didn't. We didn't say that was because the press the books were getting thanks to the prudes had greatly increased demand for these titles. The ones we did have in stock were all behind the counter because they were on hold for customers, and we'd ordered a dozen more to cover special orders. Then these self-righteous would-be banners would say to us as we bagged their purchases, "I will never shop at that horrible Barnes & Noble. It's just unbelievable that they would sell smut and porn like that! I'm so glad I can patronize another store, and not give them my money." We'd just smile and say we'd be happy to have them in Bookstar any and every day. It's amazing how far you can get with simply selective truth-telling.
Believe it or not, B&N was indicted in Tennessee (and Alabama) in 1997 for their branded store violating a law involving having material deemed obscene accessible to minors. I am dismayed to see the outcomes were: "Barnes & Noble reached a settlement with the authorities in Tennessee, agreeing to treat the books like material that is harmful to minors. In Tennessee, Barnes & Noble will display the books in blinder racks 5-1/2 feet off the floor or use opaque shrink wrap. The Montgomery, Alabama, case was dismissed on a technicality." (From the Freedom to Read Foundation News.) Bummer, B&N. I thought you stood up to jerks like this.


tediousandbrief said...

I've never heard of Bookstar, but that first photo looks like a bookstore was placed in a movie theater...which just gave me a huge smile. :D

Carin Siegfried said...

@ tedious
Yes, all Bookstars are in old movie theaters. There aren't many Bookstars left (mine closed about 7 years ago) but there are a few - San Diego and Phoenix I know. In the second picture you can kind of see in the back, to the left, where the screen used to be. It's also why the ceilings are so high.

Lola Sharp said...

They would have had a complete meltdown if they saw a Maplethorpe photography book! ;)

I've never heard of Bookstar, but I LOVE that they're in old theaters.

Carin Siegfried said...

@Lola, we actually talked about that at the time. The big Mapplethorpe controvery I think was around 1991, so 6 years before this, but these weren't all new books - so why they focused on these 3 titles, and not dozens of others in our Photography section (heck, we had the 50th Anniversary Playboy book!) I'll never know!