Dystopic Bookstore

29 Jun

Today my dad and I had breakfast at Viking Chili Bowl and afterwards went to Buns & Noodle, more or less the only bookstore in Valparaiso, Indiana. It was my first visit to a corporate bookstore since 2008, the year I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I have access to wonderful independent bookstores and work as a volunteer at In Other Words, the only nonprofit feminist bookstore and community center still existing in the United States. In Other Words (IOW) is quite a sanctuary, where I’m in charge of the lending library.

I strode into B&N looking forward to exploring the Mythology and Women’s Studies sections. I wandered around without seeing either and ended up in the science fiction and fantasy section, where I browsed for some time and picked up an anthology of fantasy fiction set in the Victorian era, called Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (a title that would surely make Queen Victoria fume and possibly pop a blood vessel).

I wandered all over the entire shop seeking the Mythology and Women’s Studies sections, all in vain. I have been to numerous B&N locations and have worked at a couple in the past, so I’m well aware what the stores were like in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even in Bigotville (Topeka), Kansas, the B&N—again, the only bookstore in town besides Xian bookstores and a used bookstore run by an unbelievably rude jerk—yes, even that store has (or had last time I was there) a Mythology section and a Women’s Studies section. In fact, until today I was under the distinct impression that all B&N locations include Mythology, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, and if I recall correctly a Queer Studies section (although I think the latter went by a different name). Yet today I saw none of the above! The B&N in Valparaiso, Indiana lacks the sections that make going to B&N worthwhile. WTF.

I found myself wandering around the store more than once in a vain attempt to find the sections that had brought me through the front doors in the first place. Nothing. It’s not as though there wasn’t enough space for Mythology, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, or Queer Studies. This cooties-infested bookstore had three rows of Xianity books. I kid you not. This was such a transparently obvious dismissiveness toward perspectives other than a patriarchal white male perspective. I realized that I had set foot into a dystopic nightmare version of Barnes & Noble.

I’m not for segregation, really. It’s just that if you set foot into a corporate bookstore and you want to find a large number of books that don’t have a patriarchal perspective, that reject patriarchy and white male supremacy, you have to set foot in the sections for which I vainly searched. At this point in time, that’s how it is. I was searching for sanctuary and not finding it.

After discovering that my favorite sections of B&N (with the exception of fantasy and science fiction) didn’t exist in this store, I decided to examine the history and philosophy sections with the notion that maybe, just maybe, I would find books that in a different B&N would have occupied the Women’s Studies section. But no, the history section didn’t include, for instance, Marilyn French’s four-volume From Eve to Dawn: a History of Women in the World. It was definitely Whiteboyworld history. I had much the same reaction to the philosophy section, a celebration of white male philosophers. For instance, I spotted Sartre but not de Beauvoir. In passive-aggressive retaliation toward this bookstore and the creepy community around it, I purchased an atheistic anthology called The Christian Delusion and decided that after I returned to my parents’ house I would not only start reading that book but also resume reading Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism.

When I came to Indiana in order to help out my dad, I knew that I was entering the Midwest; I knew I was leaving my comfort zone and entering an overtly backward part of the world. I had that in mind when I chose books to take on the trip. I chose not only Gyn/Ecology but also The Earth Mother: Legends, Ritual Arts, and Goddesses of India, by Pupul Jayakar; In the Buddha’s Words: an Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon; Nation, Empire, Colony: Historicizing Gender and Race; Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World, by Anne Fausto-Sterling; Black Feminist Thought, by Patricia Hill Collins; Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, by Susan Brownmiller; and Fighting Words: a Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right, by Robin Morgan. Thus I armed myself.

Although I anticipated entering an overtly conservative and therefore white male supremacist and fundamentalist Xian community, I was nonetheless stunned by that bookstore. It displayed such blatantly obvious disdain and dismissiveness toward the experiences of those who are not white males. I’m not saying the biography section didn’t have books by and about Nelson Mandela—certainly it did. However, such exceptions don’t compensate for the overall dismissiveness. Fortunately, I packed plenty of books to read in Indiana, but that’s not the point. The point is that Northwest Indiana is a very pathetic, horrible place that needs to evolve on a huge scale.



My dad wanted to browse magazines at the White Male Xian Buns and Noodle, so we returned. I was yet again appalled and disgusted, for essentially the same reason.

I visited the magazine section, and I was shocked and appalled and disgusted to discover that the store doesn’t even carry Ms. or Bitch! I discovered my favorite magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, at—of all places—a B&N in Bigotville, Kansas! This particularly store location is obviously run by douchebags. It stinks of “Let’s keep all overtly feminist nonfiction out of this store, because we don’t’ want this community to stop being white male supremacist” conspiracy. The population of Bigotville (Topeka) is about 150,000. The population of Valparaiso, Indiana, is about 30,000. However, that is not a valid reason for omitting feminist nonfiction and magazines. I say “nonfiction” because you can find some feminist fiction, which presumably isn’t too obviously feminist for the local patriarchy to feel threatened.


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