Margin: Exploring 

Modern Magical 

Realism

A C T I O N   I T E M
TAKE THE BOOKSHELF CHALLENGE
b y   t a m a r a   k a y e   s e l l m a n   ~   m a r g i n

FROM JANUARY 13, 2004: "It's a win-win situation for bookstores and libraries following this simple premise: add a magical realism shelf, sell more books, please more readers"—TKS, founding editor, Margin

I GUESS it was a little crazy, trying to coax bookstores into shelving magical realism into a separate section. In fact we received no response to those efforts summarized just one year ago:
OKAY, SO I may be crazy, or have delusions of grandeur, but I'd really like to see bookstores and libraries with shelves that break out fantasy and science fiction into the subgenres that comprise them.

Crazy, sure. But for what kind of risk? I say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What we did learn from the experience is actually quite illuminating.

Management at chain bookstores doesn't want to "confuse" its customer base, or their part-time employees, for that matter, with the introduction of a new "genre" which they know so little about.

Indy booksellers have made valid appeals against "ghettoizing" a kind of literature that characteristically foils all efforts at categorization.

Libraries and online booksellers often have their own virtual "shelves" (lists, i.e. ListMania!® at Amazon.com) to take care of the specialized needs of researchers.

Stores that specialize in genres aligned with imaginative literature—i.e. science fiction, fantasy, metaphysical and alternative bookstores—might or might not have space to give over to magical realism, but in cramped quarters, is this really a problem for them to solve? After all, such purveyors already know where to look in their own, smaller stores. People who shop there will probably already know, as well.

All arguments for and against the bookshelf project set aside, what we discovered most about our project is this: people who love magical realism are going to find it, no matter what. People who don't know what magical realism is will still read it, regardless. And whether the mainstream can grasp an intellectual discussion about literary magical realism is not really the point. That they are reading and appreciating magical realist works, both classic and contemporary, is the point.

Thanks to so many readers who answered our 2004 poll questions, some of which were focused on this subject. We walk away from a failed experiment in market stimulation feeling rather successful, after all. With so many thoughtful people visiting our site around the world every day, we can't have screwed up that badly…

Oh, and by the way, about the aforementioned specialty bookstores… look for our report on them in a future column. What a valiant bunch!—TKS, Margin

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Rev'd 2005/01/26