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A Bookstore and a Whole Lot More

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To the editors:

If 1992 was shaping up to be an "ordinary" year, it might be tempting to laugh off the mean-spirited diatribe against Guild Books published in the Reader January 3. I am referring to the letter "Guild Trip" by Z. Merryweather. But at a time when Patrick Buchanan runs for president by advocating jail for the homeless, how can serious people ignore an attack on the bookstore which has consistently championed homeless writers--and writing exposing homelessness?

We can't. There is an underlying theme to Merryweather's bitter letter which does need to be responded to. "Isn't it just a business?" asks Merryweather about Guild. "Why should ordinary people start giving them money [?]" And "If the Guild wouldn't run after every new thing in town . . . and just settle down to running a venture like a bookstore, they might be more successful."

Merryweather's position is clear: bookstores and booksellers should not get involved in the burning issues of the day. Writers, artists, and readers should not take political positions. Just stick to being a business and sell only the lowest common denominator of what people think they want to buy. Sell lots of what sells quickly and get rid of all that extraneous junk that "nobody" reads--like poetry by Chicago poets, for instance.

What Merryweather hates about Guild is precisely what makes it special. Guild is partisan. It is directly involved in the fight around important issues like censorship and homelessness. It gives valuable display space to new, important, unknown authors (like Sandra Cisneros once was). Isn't Guild just a business? No, it's not. It's a cultural institution bringing together authors and readers, activists and critics to exchange ideas--and then do something about them. That's why it needs and deserves our help.

Guild might be more "successful" (in the narrow financial sense) if it "settled down" to being an ivory-tower bookstore--but it wouldn't be Guild. When Chicagoans step forward to save Guild by volunteering at the store and by joining the "Friends of Guild" membership program, that is definitely not charity. It's a statement of political understanding. In 1992, with censorship on the rise and the state legislature poised to slash even more programs and make even more Illinois residents hungry and homeless, helping Guild survive is a way to help ourselves survive.

Hundreds of people have already contributed at least $20 to become Friends of Guild. I, for one, fervently hope that thousands more join them.

Christopher Mahin

W. Lill

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