Browsing as Gossip

Browsing as Gossip


The most important thing we lose as a result of short-form engagement: 

  • A nuanced understanding of the thing that we are consuming ×
  • Tactile engagement/ the acts of flipping and finding ×
  • Gossip ⇐ 

As part of my attempt to look at the labor behind the arts, I initially decided to write a series of short profiles covering bookstore owners. After spending a few days going into multiple stores, I became more interested in the labor of consumption rather than the labor of creation. This turned my attention to recording the interactions I witnessed in these bookstores. While browsing, I began to think about the act of flipping and then purchasing versus the act of scrolling and then purchasing and how this shift in our primary mode of consumption reminded me of the same culture of immediacy as the shift to short-form content. As I was in these spaces, I started to analyze what is lost due to this switch. Sure, the act of physically searching through things is valuable in itself, but what is actually lost is the same thing that is lost as a result of the shift to short-form content: the nuance in between and the little things that we might not have noticed. In the case of consumption, these are the stories that we gain from physically inhabiting spaces.  

Browsing as Gossip: The moments that make you subtly turn down your headphones and the ones that manage to drown them out. 

Store #1:

A used bookstore huddled between a convenience store and a bakery. It was small, forcing customers to crouch and contort to make their way through the shelves, although this layout didn’t stop people from moving with intensity. The first woman stormed through the door confronting the owner with a large book that she believed to be deserving of an equally large price tag. The book was some sort of scientific anthology that you would expect to see in the back of a library with its lonely pages stuck together. She asked how much she could get for the book and the owner, predicting the book’s stagnant, dreary life in his store, told her that he couldn’t purchase the book because he didn’t have the audience for it. The woman took a step back frowning with eyebrows that now carried the weight of the entire scientific community and told the man that she thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it was sad that he couldn’t see its value. She spent a few long minutes defending it as one would defend a child, with a growing ferocity that rippled throughout the store. The owner sat there patiently waiting for her to catch a breath until she asked him if any other bookstores in the area would be interested. He replied with a jab like that of a high school teacher to a student— sharp enough to get the pain across but dull enough to cast reasonable doubt. He told her that he didn’t know of any bookstores that would be interested. She left. Book in hand, pride on the floor.   

Store #2:

Another used bookstore. A small record collection inside and some quote about people who don’t read hanging outside. This place was far less intimate than the first, with a little too much space to pick up on people’s conversations. Lucky for me, there is no one louder than old people complaining about young people. The two men stood at the other end of the store, next to the register, with an authority that signaled ownership but a casualty that pointed to a lack of concern with sales. One of them started to talk about the poor, misguided youth whose idealistic politics will fade once they enter the real world. The other agreed and I picked up a book and continued weaving through the aisles unable to turn my ears from their conversation. I then arrived at the memoir section and noticed Michelle Obama’s Becoming on an adjacent shelf. My eyes traced the spines, searching for the label of the section that held the book: Black Studies. “They just don’t get it,” said one of the men. I flipped over the book in my hand and checked the price tag. Is it worth an hour and a half? No. I left. Book on the shelf, idealistic politics in hand. 

Store #3:


Back to Top