Independent bookstores are as good a tourist spot as any for many. Right off of bustling Broadway with it’s perfectly outfitted shoppers, you find this haven for book lovers, crammed with books, more books and a working book printing press. Any bookstore that has stairs leading anywhere downstairs is a bonus. There is something mysterious and alluring to descend stairs into the basement in a bookstore.
An Indian Serenade
If I seem to pick on Indians the most it is only because I am one. In every book store that I step into in NYC I try to run a quick mental percentage of the number of South Asian browsers and unfortunately it is always very low. This in itself should not mean anything. Just an anecdotal observation on book buying habits of consumers but it makes for good theories. Yesterday, though I saw two young awkward (probably second generation) South Asian teens serenading each other quite classily. Loud enough for everyone around to hear. I do not know how they manage it. I have always marveled at people who can talk at just the right voice for the ambient setting. Mine is invariably always too low. Many have boom boxes for vocal chords. So you can imagine that it was reassuring in many ways for me when I saw them.
Reasons I think I do not see many South Asians in Independent Bookstores
1. We do not read. I admit it. This was my first thought. They just do not read. I know tons and tons of extremely well read Indians in India. But somehow it seems that the proportion of those readers who make their way to NYC is low. Could be a reason.
2. Mismatched Neighborhoods. It could be that they just do not visit the bookstores in that particular neighborhood. But then I see a whole lot of us all around in the brunch places and coffee shops carrying DSLRs and name brand totes.
3. Maybe it is a Generational Thing. Many immigrant parents came for unskilled labor and do not read as a habit, which you have to admit is kind of a vanity habit. They might also be value shoppers who look to buy books to read, not for the experience of browsing. I have been tempted so many times to forgo the opportunity to seek out bookstores just because I might end up spending a little on coffee/water/tickets/ etc. all of which I can spend on a book. This could be a good reason.
4. It is a vocational Thing. With first generation immigrants, the vocation is mainly high end tech/finance jobs. Not exactly jobs that allow for a leisurely, soul searching pace. Indian philosophy, literature and art students still struggle to find opportunities in NYC. So it could be that what we experience here is a result of distortion in opportunities.
I realize all this is flawed thinking. Just like we cant infer there is no Indian Literature based on the small proportion of books that are stocked in NYC bookstores.