Marc Joseph, Our Strange Gods, from New and Used. Courtesy of the artist and D.A.P.
Allow me to admit up front that I have never been much into music. So only half of Marc Joseph’s New and Used, an illustrated ode to the bookstore and record shop, speaks to me. But oh, how that part speaks to me. As it must to anyone who has built her life in part through books—read and not read, browsed and thumbed, memorized and forgotten, beheld through shop windows and on other people’s shelves. We know books through reading them, but books are not just a medium for content delivery (despite what digital libraries and online booksellers would have you believe). Books, as Walter Benjamin explained in “Unpacking My Library,” are special objects in their own right, with special places where we go to discover them.
To my mind New and Used contains two kinds of photographs: portraits and landscapes. These are not genres one would typically choose to categorize pictures with these subjects, but Joseph isolates book covers or record albums like exotic butterflies pinned and framed, and crops the stores where they’re sold—a choice selection of independents from across the US—into magical zones of accidental illumination and exciting promise. Throughout, Joseph and coeditor Damon Krukowski arrange texts by Jonathan Lethem, Eileen Myles, Jeremy Sigler, Thurston Moore, Shelley Jackson, Nick Tosches, and others, each as potentially unexpected as the books that might once have been shelved together in my favorite shop.
Might once have—because so many bookstores (and record shops too) are already gone. New and Used can’t help but have an elegiac quality, both because so much of what it lovingly depicts is marked by time—even if it is presented not nostalgically but as pristine and fresh—and because these kinds of stores grow fewer every day. And without them, how will we know what we want, or what we want to be?