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Selfridges Wants to Make Reading Cool Again
Because what's hotter than a book?

Maybe my favourite quote of this whole mad millennium was from John Waters in the magazine 032c, at the end of 2010. “We need to make reading cool again,” he said. “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”

And maybe my second-favourite quote is from a Canadian political scientist named Emmett Macfarlane, and he said it, of course, on Twitter: “If we’re at the point where BOOKS are considered elitist, we’re totally screwed.” This was contextualized by the whole Doug Ford/Margaret Atwood smackdown and by the threat of library closures, but I’m thinking of it again now that our city council is voting for sickening cuts, and I think of it every time I am made to feel pretentious and apologetic for reading a fucking novel that isn’t sold in a goddamn airport. I mean, I am pretentious, and I’m not actually very apologetic even about that, but that’s another story.

AHEM. What binds together my love for these two quotes isn’t my obsession with all words for sex and mess (although, that too). It’s a desperate belief, heart-etched from so so so many high school re-readings of William Faulkner’s 1952 Nobel Prize speech (I swear, that thing MADE ME), that only the recording of thought will save thought; that the recording of ideas will save ideas; that the recording of feelings will record feelings. There are many ways to record things, and so to make culture, but none I trust more than putting them into words, and then putting those words on sheets of paper, and then putting those sheets of paper between two hard covers and hoping for the best.

Which is why I greeted, almost without cynicism, this morning’s email from Selfridges’ press department, announcing that the ginormous, fashion-centric, Weston-owned, London department store is opening a… library.

“Selfridges launches its own library to prompt people to switch off their mobile phones, computer and television screens and rediscover reading, literature and the inspirational power of words,” says the email. And: “The launch of The Selfridges Library is also a comment about the multiplication of library closures around the United Kingdom and the risk it represents to education standards, literacy and creativity.”

I am a little bit skepticky on the second point; it seems rather more likely that Selfridges has caught onto the notion that the more endangered books get, the rarer and cooler they become. If books are elitist–and I’ve argued this entire point at some length before, in the National Post–they become suddenly palatable to fashion people, commodity fetishizers, consumers-in-public. That’s what makes Selfridges so very smart. The political stance, or pose, is smart too.

The Selfridges library will be free, as libraries should be. It will be “corporate” (my quotes), in part because it’s “curated” (their quotes) by major book-makers Penguin, Thames & Hudson, Faber and Taschen. There will be over 15,000 physical books, plus a potentially far vaster number available through Kobos and iPads. From the looks of it, they’ve collaborated with creativity hub Its Nice That, who worked with some of their favourite designers to create playful, alluring windows that recall the childhood electricity of reading (kinda like that Type Books stop-motion vid you love). There’s also a Words Words Words shop (check all this out online, yeah?) stocked with word-y, nerd-cool objects. They’ll have free lectures, grammar lessons, and writers-in-residence. And they’ll have chairs, better ones than Chapters, so you can staaaay.

In short: I think I could fuck someone here.

Sarah Nicole Prickett is the Style Editor at Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @xoxSNP.

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