So today in the New York Times, the man selling books outside the about-tobe-donein Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center -- with an enormous cigar in his mouth-- bemoans the end of thinking, reading, and the mind in contemporary New York, which is, of course, contemporary America (at its best). The classics he has all stacked up don't sell, bookstores are closing the way Tower Records and all the record stores before it -- remember Sam Goody's? - have closed. And, he says, the saloon up the same street is closing: no more collective drinking, no more private or collective reading, oh, alas.
I well remember reading stacks of books in the Barnes and Noble right there, in the cafe upstairs. True, I didn't buy them all or maybe even many of them, BUT the whole place, with its quiet concentration, was just like a public library and its reading room, except that you could have coffee with the reading. And there was a discount if you were, as generally we were, members of Barnes and Noble. The whole thing worked, and when I had out of town visitors, I would bring them there to see the collective quiet and concentration.
No more. ALAS.