Book browsing

I had an interesting experience this afternoon.  While browsing at a local bookstore, I lingered for a while in the current-events section.  It’s always fun to see the latest polemic du jour, and I was not disappointed with the selection of throw-away titles that promised to tell the “real truth” about the Iraq war or the Bush administration or the decline of Western civilization or the fallibility of journalists or … well, you get the point.

The current-events titles are housed opposite the store’s modest selection of gay-themed books.  I do not generally pay much attention to the “gay and lesbian interests” section, since there is a certain disappointing predicatability to the subject-matter, but I did happen to observe the store’s other patrons as they browsed those shelves.

The ten minutes or so I spent with one eye on the current-events books and the other on the gay-and-lesbian-section patrons certainly provided fodder for reflection.  Most people tended to pass through the section on their way to some other part of the store.  However, those who explored the gay-themed books seemed skittish, as if they didn’t want to be seen as looking too intently at those books.  They seemed to be watching out for those who might be watching them, much more so than those browsing, e.g., the religious fiction section.

Maybe it’s a function of living in socially conservative West Michigan; there are defined and unambiguous limits to what this community finds acceptable in terms of the expression of one’s sexuality — although signs abound that perhaps a more libertarian streak is starting to infuse the otherwise stolidly conservative facade of pious Grand Rapids.

But it was interesting, nevertheless, that those inclined to look for gay-themed books appeared sensitive to be seen as looking for gay-themed books. 

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it; my interest was originally caught by an alterna-teen walking slowly up and down the aisle, so maybe I am just applying a social template that has no firm basis in reality.  Perhaps.

Whatever the case, I’ve now got something else to think about.

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