To hear recent transplants talk, the only true safety in Tucson lies in retreat along the freeway to Vail or Marana, and the neighborhood where I grew up is a meth-crazed wasteland. For me, part of nesting has been to reject the hype, return to my old neighborhood, and to think very carefully not just about how to create a peaceful home, but about what’s needed to sustain a community. Part of the answer, I think, can be found at bookstores like Antigone on Fourth Avenue.
My mother first brought me to Antigone Books when I was 11 or 12, soon after it opened. Originally a feminist bookstore, Antigone was an excellent place to find lesbian science fiction, the latest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and a variety of bumper stickers that now seem both quaint and enduringly true: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astair did, but backwards and in high heels.” This quiet, deeply eccentric environment helped me to trust the strength of my own intellect and will.
In the late 80s, University of Arizona professors with a feminist bent could and did use Antigone as an alternative to the high-priced monopoly of the campus bookstore. As a result, I bought philosophical studies by Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Jacques Derrida there, and studying these books led me out of journalism and into an academic career.
Today Antigone is still a great place to pick up a Pat Califa novel, but it’s grown from a specifically feminist bookstore to serving a broader progressive community. That means I can now go there for Gary Indiana novels, Michael Lewis’ brilliant nonfiction expose of the subprime mortgage market, and, most recently, Sherry Turkle’s dystopian study of robotics and the internet. To my delight, Ken and I went there to see super-cool UA folklore professor Big Jim Griffith read from his latest work, and to marvel in the thought that I interviewed him more than 20 years ago about local murals and mariachi music.
Big box bookstores have come and gone, and I believe that Kindles and Nooks will follow a similar trajectory. They will promise to transform reading and communities, destroy key infrastructure, and be destroyed in their turn by the new new thing. Barnes and Noble works to create a simulacrum of community by installing little cafes and sponsoring book talks; Amazon greets me by name and suggests purchases based on recent searches. Both are seductive, but neither serves me or my hometown well over time. Meanwhile, Antigone has kept pace with my interests; it has also shaped them. I’m grateful that it’s still here.
- Antigone Books Website (external link)
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