The Changing Face of Consumerism VIII: State of Independence, or, All’s Well at The Inkwell

The seven ‘Changing Face of Consumerism’ articles I ran on MySpace in 2008 and 2008 all shared a common theme, namely lamenting the sad decline of the real – both in media and commodity, with ‘reality’ television being a pisspoor ersatz approximation of any reality I’ve ever known, and ‘real’ shopping experiences being slowly subsumed by the virtual marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress, and have long been a big fan of on-line shopping, being one who doesn’t cope well with crowds or endless hours of pavement-pounding in search of goods, but by the same token, I’m a strong advocate of consumer choice. Despite what the global marketplace on-line tells us, we as consumers do not have infinite choice, not least of all because while some niche outlets fare well on-line, many have gone to the wall because the same kind of corporate giants that slowly erased all of the small independent stores from the high streets of each and every town have steamrollered the little on-line traders out.

As city centres everywhere become identikit clones of anywheresville, so our sense of location becomes diminished: the only thing to differentiate, say, Leeds from Lincoln, isn’t the choice of shops, but the size of each branch, and after a mooch round M&S, Boots, Game and HMV, stopping for a uniform coffee in a Starbucks or Costa before going on to… well, it doesn’t matter. I mean it really doesn’t matter where you are, the experience is pretty much the same. Fine, so you know what you’re going to get, but the experience of discovering a little specialist shop tucked away somewhere is radically different and appeals to a whole range of senses. However hard Amazon try to replicate the browsing experience of specialist independent book and record stores with features like ‘look inside’ and the song snippets you can listen to, in addition to the list of recommendations based on what you’re looking at and what other shoppers have also purchased or viewed that functions as a mimesis of the friendly and enthusiastic guy behind the counter who just loves his books or music and knows everything there is to know, like a living, walking encyclopedia, it just isn’t the same. There’s no substitute for browsing.

And so it was that I was practically skipping when The Inkwell opened in York a few weeks ago. A little shop stocking secondhand books, records (with a few selected new titles), CDs and cards, it’s the kind of shop you used to drop into, rummage around and find something wonderful you didn’t even know you wanted. The owner, Paul Lowman, is clearly an unashamed enthusiast first and a businessman second, and while such a venture is the kind that will never make him rich, and would make many lenders and entrepreneurs alike squirm in discomfort, it’s a shopper’s delight. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Inkwell is aimed at a niche market (by which I mean discerning shoppers: Paul’s philosophy is according to the website, “COOL STUFF FOR ALL!” Popular Culture is about democracy – inclusivity, not exclusivity) specialising as it does in books on music, film and pop culture, with sections on the Beat Generation, Art, Philosophy and a noteworthy – not to mention impressive – selection of pulp paperbacks, all in remarkably good condition (yet reasonably priced, with titles marked up at between six and ten quid).

The vinyl, too, is all in great nick, and the range, though limited, is all about quality and catering to a particular kind of discerning alt/hipster customer. There’s no mainstream pap to be found on the racks: instead, there are sections devoted to Garage, Psych, 90s Indie, Spoken Word / Comedy, and even Burlesque. Yes, if you want the kitsch sleaze of yesteryear, then the range of sexploitation titles in both audio and written media is exceptional.

It’s a tiny little place, made all the more cramped by there being a pair of school desks in the middle of the room, upon which a choice of books are casually laid. It’s all about the browsing experience (they serve coffee too), and an eclectic mix of music is spun – at high volume, and all on vinyl, naturally – on the turntable in the corner by the counter. Of course, it’s simply one’s man’s vision, one man’s obsession made manifest… but what’s wrong with that? But equally, why should a shop such as this succeed in a climate where major chains are going to the wall? The answer, I believe, is simple. In attempting to appeal to everyone, the major chains ultimately cater for no-one. In aiming to cover a vast market based on some kind of assumed generic average consumer and broad populism, the chains become Xerox copies of one another: reliable, perhaps, but ultimately forgettable and wholly impersonal. A shop like The Inkwell isn’t about conquering the world or trying to cater to all tastes: it knows its market and knows it well – because by being the shop its owner wants it to be, it’s catering for like-minded individuals (there’s that word again!). It’s unique in every way, and every item in stock is essentially a one-off. It has the personal touch and is memorable. And that’s why it has a better than average chance of success.

So, on the opening day I left with a brand new hardback copy of Brion Gysin: Dream Machine (a bargain at a tenner given that it retails at £25), a read but respectable copy of The Dark Stuff by Nick Kent (£3) and a vinyl LP – a copy of Fade Out by Loop, again in top condition (EX as Record Collector would have it), for a fiver.

I returned this week and was pleased to see some of the stock had gone and new stuff had taken its place, meaning I was able to add a copy of the original 1971 Olympia Press edition of S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas to my library. The tenner asking price was more than fair, especially given the condition.

Does The Inkwell represent the vanguard of the counter-revolution in the world of retail? Perhaps not, but I’d like to think that other independent stores will begin to pop up, not just in York, but in every city, and soon. It’s unlikely that this is how the economic situation will be recovered, but being able to rifle some good books and records in a pleasant environment certainly makes these dark times a lot more bearable.

The Inkwell Online is cool – www.ink-well.co.uk – but not nearly as cool as being there.

 

Inkwell

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Thoughts, Images, Sounds….

I hadn’t been especially late to bed and had slept reasonably well, at least in comparison to the last two or three weeks. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve not been sleeping well lately. However tired I am, however much or little alcohol I consume during the evening, whether I go to be early or late, whether I have to be up or not, I’ve been waking up consistently a little before five in the morning. Once awake, I lie wondering how long it is before the alarm (the clock isn’t on my side of the bed, and the hands on my old, second-hand, wind-up watch are not luminous). I’m always aware that I’ve been dreaming long and hard, but can never recall any of the details, and more often than not, even the main body of the dream evaporates on waking. All I know is that my mind has been working overtime and I’m even more exhausted on waking than when I turn out the light – or leave it on, along with the television or radio in an attempt to create a background hum that will induce rest. And while Mrs N sleeps soundly through everything, nothing works for me.

So once again I awoke before the alarm and lay, semi-comatose and half-paralysed, too awake to return to sleep, to dopey to get up and commence any kind of constructive activity. It’s a little like anaesthesia, or how I imagine a Ketamine trip to feel. I haul myself out of bed and make myself ready without breaking free of my zombified state.

I open the front door. It’s light, despite being a minute before 7am. The street is bright and empty. I feel on the one hand that Spring really is just around the corner. On the other hand, it’s cold and silent and I feel as though the end of the world is nigh, or, worse still, that the world ended in the night and I am alone in this disconsolate, pot-apocalyptic northern city. Actually, would that really be worse?

Shunning thoughts of the 2012 prophecy to the back of my mind and plugging myself into my MP3 player – not a slick iPod with infinite capacity, but a 2-Gig Alba purchased 3 years ago from Netto – I head townwards with The Psychedelic Furs’ eponymous debut in my ears.

Walking onwards, ever onwards, and encountering no other pedestian and only a handful of cyclists who speed past me, I kept my eyes open and absorb whatever presents itself. I inhaled deeply and drank in the cool morning, my senses unravelling and my receptors slowly coming to life. The air was cold and clear, the ground dry, a frost on the roofs glinting against the clear sky. A mist hung over the Ouse. The water level was relatively low and the water still save for the occasional ripple of rising fish. Lendal Bridge was reflected almost perfectly, the infrequent cars crossing the bridge also crossing in them inverted version on the water below.

The bus is on time. I take a seat and pull my copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary from my bag. I’ve only been reading it for the last three days (and I only get to read in small chunks) but I’m already 30 pages in. The best thing about the bus part of the journey is that I’ve recently discovered that I can read on busses without becoming travel-sick. Two stops on and I’m compressed into half of my seat as some gargantuan, lumbering, fantasy-novel-reading behemoth had parked herself beside me. Her massive bulk occupies a full seat and a half and she’s still hanging into the aisle, her Kindle e-book reader looking like a PDA in proportion to her colossal, hulking frame. She smells, too. I feel nauseous, but fight the gag reflex in favour of soaking in the details of her pungent wet do aroma, her plum-coloured quilted coat, like a giant slippery sleeping bag. I can hear her wheezing even over the sound of ‘Flowers’. It’s painful, awkward and uncomfortable, but I remind myself, ‘this is research’.

For once, I am relieved to arrive at work.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

A Year in Literature: Christopher Nosnibor’s 2010 Read-a-thon

So after a couple of years during which reading for pleasure took very much a back seat in my life, I vowed that in 2010 I would make time for books once more. After all, despite having all but stopped reading for pleasure (that isn’t to say the books I had to read weren’t pleasurable, but simply that after studying for several hours straight, my brain was too fried and my eyes too shot to read more), my book purchasing continued unabated during this time.

During the last 12 months, my to-read pile has continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate, since I have been slowly chiselling away at the stack of unread tomes that have accumulated in my home office. Since January 1st, 2010, I have fed my head with the following works… and it feels good!

 

J G Ballard – Millennium People
Richard Allen – Complete Vol 3 –     Trouble for Skinhead / Skinhead Farewell /                       Top Gear Skin
Philip Sidney – The Defence of Poesy and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism
Raymond Chandler – The Lady in the Lake
Toby Litt – Ghost Story
Mickey Spillane – The Snake
Chuck Palahniuk – Snuff
Alain Robbe-Grillet – In the Labyrinth
Chuck Palahniuk – Choke
Phil Baker – William S. Burroughs
Chuck Palahniuk – Haunted
Stewart Home – Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie
Ian Rankin – A Cool Head
David Conway – Metal Sushi
Stewart Home – The Assault on Culture
Alex Garland – The Coma
Arthur Nersesian – Unlubricated
Donald Ray Pollock – Knockemstiff
Vincent Clasper – Kicks
J G Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition
Ian Crofton – Nettle Knickers and Exploding Toads
Brian Masters – Killing for Company
Ed McBain – The Empty Hours
Various – Paroxysm
Lee Rourke – The Canal
Henry Millers – Plexus

 

 

And if you’re living my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

 


Anti-Everything: A Blogger’s Dilemma

I greatly admire Kathy Acker’s writing, and I greatly admire the attitudes she espoused. I admire her writing because it’s exciting and unconventional and bursting with ideas. I admire her attitudes because she was antagonistic, awkward, challenging and non-conformist. Acceptance for Acker was extremely hard-won. I recently revisited an interview with her, in which she explained her early motivation:

“I took a lot of writing courses when I was in college… They were just torture… I reacted in this kind of this radical anti-authority stance, anti-right rules of writing. I started off by saying ‘no’ to everything. My whole identity as a writer was in saying ‘no’, in reacting. So in my first books I refused to rewrite. I wrote as fast as possible. I refused to have any consideration for proper grammar or proper syntax.”

It’s possible to react without being ‘reactionary,’ and Acker’s opposition to all things ‘establishment’, all things ‘conventional’ is something I’ve long been able to identify with. The establishment and the conventional frustrates me. The world frustrates me. I abhor the herd mentality, the misguided and broadly accepted notion that something must be good because it’s popular, the fact that so much ‘culture’ and so many ‘norms’ are simply accepted because that’s what the masses get fed by the various agents of dissemination. Our education system is flawed because it teaches people what to think, rather than how to think for themselves. Or, as Acker contended, “universities have peculiar transmission problems: they transmit stupidity.” It’s a pretty radical view, but it’s not difficult to see what she was driving at. 

As I’ve grown older, my views haven’t softened: I’ve simply found more evidence to substantiate them, and more cogent ways to articulate them. I’m frustrated at every turn, and as such, my writing, in all its forms, is writing of protest, it’s anti-something, if not absolutely anti-everything. Am I a nihilist? No, because I think that such negativity can be channelled for positive ends.

To return to a favourite analogy of mine, that of literature being the new rock ‘n’ roll, I find it irritating (you’ll probably be seeing the pattern by now) when bands plead with the audience to buy their CD at the merch stall between every song. Sure, plug it by all means, but ramming it down people’s throats is bad form. It’s overkill. It stops the set being about the music, and becomes a sales pitch. The set is an advertisement for the CD in itself. Do writers give readings and break after every page to ask the audience to please please please buy their book so they can get the bus home? Well, perhaps, but it’s rare in the extreme.

Writers do tend to be a lot less shameless by nature, to the extent that many come across as being quite apologetic. This can be similarly frustrating for audiences and people who meet them, for they seem shy, nervous or aloof. In the main, I’m no exception to this rule although I do try to speak confidently when reading in public.

This isn’t something I’ve done a great deal of. I have, so far, based a career on upping the anti, so to speak (yes, that’s wordplay, creative misprision, not a sign of limited literacy). I’ve refrained from using any mugshots on any social networking sites, and divulge very few personal details. I guard my privacy fiercely. I like to think it adds to the mystique, but it’s also a deliberate strategy. On one hand, it means my personal life remains just that, and on the other, it means I’m able to create a persona based around the invisible author. I’m the anti-author, if you like. I’ve done the anti-novel, in the form of THE PLAGIARIST, which is also a statement against originality, authorship and copyright. While producing music reviews ahead of release date, I’ve also written articles against music reviewing, and promoted the concept of retrospective reviewing as a means of combating the popular hyping processes. I’m against organised religion, I’m against CCTV and the countless infringements on personal freedoms. I’m against large corporations taking over the world and I’m against idiots cycling on the pavement. Yes, I’m pretty much anti-everything, to the extent that I’m quite averse to endlessly plugging my writing. Being anti-everything, I’m operating a strategy of anti-promotion.

After years of refusing to give public readings, I recently took a slot at an open mic night and read a couple of short stories, in the interests of (self) promotion. Only, I couldn’t bring myself to reiterate my name at the end of my performance, and I didn’t plug any of my books. Needless to say, I didn’t sell any.

Is this strategy of anti-promotion self-defeating? Perhaps. The trouble is, I get fed up of writers who post three blogs a week about their books, but never actually give anything away. Now, I have posted the odd snippet and link to my published works, but work on the premise that my blogs are separate from my fiction and other writing, and live in the hope that the blogs will pique the interest of readers sufficiently that they might feel compelled to investigate further. It works to an extent, but perhaps not as well as I would like. I’m so averse to plugging my work that many occasional readers probably won’t even realise I have books in print.

So, to redress this, for those who don’t know, I have a number of books out. Earlier this year, I edited Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts. It’s choc-full of brilliant works by some truly outstanding contemporary authors. A couple of months ago, Clinicality Press published my novella, From Destinations Set and a booklet, The Gimp. The former is conceivably one of the most progressive and innovative works of the last decade, while the latter is pure, unadulterated in your face (anti)literary filth. They’re all available from Clinicality Press at http://clinicalitypress.co.uk. Go buy ‘em.

(And yes, the title is a Mansun reference…)

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.