Friday, March 9, 2012

The World’s Biggest Bookstore

bookstore El Ateneo in Buenos Aires. Photography by josephina

When I was a kid, I had one of those super thick paperback editions of The Guinness Book of World Records. This was back in the seventies when Sterling Publishing made the books into a household name—back when they had the heavy cowboy-hatted twins riding motorcycles and the fella from Calcutta with the longest fingernails. Every kid in high school either had a copy, had leafed through their friend’s, or checked out the one in the school library.  Everyone knew the tallest man was the 8’ 11.1” Giant of Illinois, Robert Wadlow, and that the fattest man, Robert Earl Hughes, was buried in a piano box. He wasn’t, of course. In the article in Guinness, the sentence read:  “He was buried in a coffin the size of a piano case.” But everyone remembered it as being a piano case. There was the fastest car, the Blue Flame, and the smallest violin that could fit in the palm of your hand, and everyone knew each of these better than they knew questions on any up and coming test, but no one to my knowledge could even guess at the biggest bookstore.

Granted, while Barnes and Noble was founded in 1873, the push toward huge discount bookstores didn’t come into being until a hundred years later in the late 1970s, so it wasn’t such a big deal back then. Not that the biggest bookstore would have bumped the fastest car or the fattest man from the top ten list of things a teenager had to know. We had a lot on our plates, Farrah Fawcett posters, streakers, pet rocks, platform shoes, and if you didn’t know the entire script of Monty Python’s many routines, who was on Saturday Night Live, or had missed Happy Days or Mork and Mindy there was something wrong with you. 

Bookstores didn’t really get big until the 1980’s, and ’90’s when they became so prevalent that Nora Ephron created the movie You’ve Got Mail about the little bookstore in New York being put out of business by the monstrous discount bookstore. I can almost imagine independent sellers these days crying “Remember The Little Shop Around the Corner!”

One of the very first superstores was the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, Ontario. What started out as a bowling alley was converted in 1980 into the world’s largest book store boosting 20 km of bookshelves. It was also the location for a brief scene in the movie Short Circuit 2. Since then the title has been in dispute.

Guinness insists the biggest bookstore is the flagship Barnes and Noble located on 105 Fifth Avenue at 18th Street in New York, that occupies 154,250 square feet and contains 12.87 miles of bookshelves. At the same time the Strand Bookstore, is considered the world’s biggest bookstore in terms of shelf space. In the East Village, it boasts “18 miles of books.” On the other side of the country Powell’s City of Books, covers a whole city block and occupies more than 68,000 sq ft. They claim to be the world’s largest independent new-and-used bookstore. So how does the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Ontario maintain its crown? By defining “biggest” as being the store offering the most titles.

Why am I telling you all this? For one thing if you’re reading this blog you’re likely into books and might find it interesting which are the largest bookstores in the world—probably more so than who the tallest man was, or if in fact Robert Earl Hughes was indeed buried in a piano case. More importantly—as far as I’m concerned at least—is that the World’s Biggest Bookstore has chosen me as their featured author in their fantasy and science fiction section. 

To either side are a list of interview questions I answered as part of this promotion and endcap display, which Jessica Strider will post in full to her site later this week.

So if you’re in Ontario, wander in and check out the display or look for a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. Being the World’s Biggest Bookstore by title, I’m pretty sure they’ll have it.  

While working on this post I found this site showing pictures of "The Most Interesting Bookstores in the World."

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