A Memorial for the Rememberers

Frontispiece photograph and title page. John Ashberry et al. The Phoenix Book Shop : a Nest of Memories. Candia, N.H.: John LeBow, 1997.

The object I examined, a small chapbook entitled The Phoenix Book Shop, is interesting because it falls halfway between a publication of literature and a piece of art. The book is a compilation of short essays, stories, and some poems that reflect memories of a beloved bookstore and its owner composed by famous, respected writers and patrons of the bookstore. The editor’s original intention was an anthology of sorts, as indicated in the introduction pictured below, but ultimately this chapbook acts as a manifestation of the bonds the bookstore’s frequent visitors felt they shared with the place, the owner Bob Wilson, and one another as a singular, unique experience.

The colophon indicates that this chapbook was published in limited edition, some copies of which were packaged with other documents to create a more complete physical memoriam, and it is clear that certain people received certain versions based on their closeness to the store owner. What is most interesting about these multiple versions and their forms is that while each is comprised of pieces of short literature, it seems as though the book’s existence as a symbol of all The Phoenix and its owner did and meant for so many people, rather than the actual words, is on exhibition in the form of this carefully wrought chapbook. To publish a compilation in limited edition seems entirely counter-intuitive, especially when the audience is the compilers and contributors. Had the contributions been compiled in a typical anthology and mass-produced, the intentions of the editor would appear entirely different; the purpose of the book would be to tell a certain story and create a permanent, tangible memorial for others to access after The Phoenix went out of business. There would be a less emotional tone to the book and the writing, and it would seem more like a sterile freeze-frame of a historical moment rather than an emotional memorial. However, due to the limited audience of this presumably expensive and definitely exclusive object, the chapbook’s purpose is to physically embody all of the memories and feelings the contributors felt when they were at The Phoenix and allow other patrons to recall those feelings they shared; the object’s importance is in its existence rather than its function.

Introduction, pg 7. John Ashberry et al. The Phoenix Book Shop : a Nest of Memories. Candia, N.H.: John LeBow, 1997.

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