The Anatomy of a (Mon)Dragon
When you first enter Mondragon, you do not actually enter the physical store. Instead, you enter a long hallway that leads up into the apartments. The hallway is lined with books. If you remember from my last post, this is the hallway in which people take free magazines, post flyers for local events, and sometimes take the occasional book or two for reading when the store is closed. The front door to Mondragon sits among these shelves of books like the teeth to the mouth of a dragon.
You enter the store and enter the “Front Room” (as labelled by Sarajane). Like the hallway, it is cluttered with books. Everywhere your eye can see, there is most likely a book. Except when there’s not. When there’s not, there is art from local artists or a record player that exudes the sounds of jazz. To your right is where the worker sits, usually surrounded by books. And then in a little corner of the Front Room is a free coffee nook. You can take a mug and pour some coffee or hot water for tea and add whatever you like to make your coffee exactly the way you wish.
Just beyond the coffee nook is a hallway. There are three options to go down. There is the “Side Room,” the bathroom, and the “Middle Room.” You go to the Side Room and see, again, a cluttering of books and art. In front of you is a bench and table. To your left there is a hole in the wall. This bookshop used to be a doctor’s office and the Side Room used to be where the receptionists would sit. As you peruse the selection of books, you notice that they mostly deal with international history. When you start travelling on your right side, you start with US History from the beginning. As you move along, you get to the International History section. This section takes up the largest wall in this room. The next section of books you hit then is the Economics section. Before you know it, you are back in the hallway.
You continue into the Middle Room. As usual, this room is packed with books, more so than the rest due to the island in the middle of the room housing their Shakespeare collection. The amount of books in this room may intimidate you, so you decide to check out half of the collection of books in this room before you head on over to the room full of novels. As you do this, you see a selection of plays from various playwrights throughout history. And before you head into the hall, you stop to look at a small wall of books covering film and media.
You step into the hall and see a small bookshelf covering a miscellaneous selection of genres from sports to literary criticism to comedy.
You finally find the “Back Room.” The Back Room has a lot of books but surprisingly not as many as the other rooms. One and a quarter walls are covered with fiction top to bottom. Rare copies of fiction are placed at the top of the shelves to be displayed. Three quarters of another wall is a mixture of nonfiction, poetry, and literary criticism. At the end of this grouping of books, on a table by the window, sits a table with baskets of records of many genres and a variety of sizes. Looking through the fiction section, you find books that you have seen before or heard of before. You pick up the ones that have been recommended to you.
Leaving the Back Room, you go back down the hallway, but now from a different angle. You can see the Front Room through the cut out where the register sits.
You enter the Middle Room again, but now, the room seems less full than before. This time, you venture to the sections that you missed. You pass the LGBTQ/ Women/ Africana/ Indiginous Studies section. This section is larger than you expected; most used book stores don’t carry a section on diversity specifically. On the same wall, there are sections on Culture, Philosophy, and Art. And finally, there is a small collection of Graphic Novels. If you do not know where to look, you might miss them. This section is the smallest and in a tiny bookcase under a window. You have never heard of most of the Graphic Novels in this section. But, there are some that look really interesting to you.
By the time you return to the tiny hallway between the three first rooms, you realize you have finished drinking your coffee and have been done for a while. You make a stop in the bathroom to drop your mug off in the washing basket.
You then reenter the Front Room and realize you have missed so many books in this room. As a matter of fact, you have missed walls of books. When you explore, you find a section on Agriculture and Gardening, Cooking, Music Theory, and a small section on Birth/Life/Sex/Death which is mostly a tiny religious/ spiritual section. While in the Front Room, Tiger will probably snuggle up to you as you sit and look through the sections.
You buy the books you want after having a pleasant conversation with the owner about gardening and/or books and/or Tiger. Like that, you exit the store the way you came in.
Mondragon has a large, large, collection of books. As stated in previous posts, this collection is made up entirely of donated books from people in the surrounding area. Benjamin’s idea of a collection of books is particularly interesting, especially when analyzing Mondragon. Benjamin says, “The period, the region, the craftsmanship, the former ownership– for a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object.” (Benjamin 60). While Mondragon may not sell their rare books in store, every book feels rare in the way they are marketed. First, the experience of browsing allows the consumer to find treasures within the store, like the Graphic Novel section. Mondragon does not have the newest books coming out of the press, but what they do have are books with a history. In some books you can see the yellowing of the page, pen markings of certain sections, or the wear and tear on the bottom of a book from being taken on and off shelves. When a consumer shops used, they shop the history of the book. Like I said in my previous post, Mondragon feels like a shrine to books. But, along with being a shrine, it also destroys books. Sarajane categorizes and picks out books specifically to be used for craft nights in which people take apart a book and use it to create art. This art can be seen all around the store. This complicates Benjamin’s position before because, in a way, this destruction of books is a destruction of a collection. I am continually mystified by people who worship the physical object. Bookriot, a website for the modern bookworm, reported on the destruction of books in an article called, “Books Are Not Sacred Objects.” In this article they argue that books are simply an object. They quote Rachel Fehrschleiser, an editor in Big Six publishing,
“They used words like ‘sacred’ and ‘deface’ and ‘murder.’ My best guess is that these people have little experience working in a bookstore, library, or publishing house. Books are made from wood pulp. If they don’t sell, to wood pulp they return.” (Schinsky).
This goes back to an important part of Mondragon’s identity. Mondragon is a store that is conscientious to world politics and environmental conservation. With this destruction of books, they reduce, reuse, and recycle. Their stock is in a constant state of renewal. In my group’s interview with Sarajane, she told us that her office is cluttered with donated books that she simply cannot put out due to the large volume of books already in the store. This process of recycling books helps create more room in the sore, reduce waste in dumps, and still worships the book, but in a different way.
Map courtesy of Sarajane Snyder.
Photos courtesy of Richard Berwind
Benjamin, Walter. “Illuminations.” Schocken Books: New York.
Schinsky, Rebecca J. “Books Are Not Sacred Objects.” BOOK RIOT, Riot New Media Group, 20 Aug. 2012, bookriot.com/2012/08/20/books-are-not-sacred-objects/.
Snyder, Sarajane. Personal interview. 22 February 2019.