Updated: Mar 18, 2022
Since muscling hundreds of independent bookstores out of existence in recent decades, box-store giant Chapters Indigo has devoted more and more of its space to anything but books.
Home decor products, stationery, kids’ toys and an assortment of knickknacks, gewgaws, curios, mementos and tchotchkes beckon from store entrances, even at their smaller format retail chains such as Coles and SmithBooks.
You might not be able to find anything by Baudelaire, say, in the shrinking space devoted to books (mostly bestsellers). But if you’re interested in coffee mugs, T-shirts, pillow cases, robes, pyjamas, handbags, scarves, pens, pencils, beach towels, plaques, fragrances, medallions, yoga mats, posters or shot glasses trading on the name of famous long-dead authors who can’t sue, Les Fleurs du merch await.
Given Amazon’s dominance in the worldwide online book market (and everything else), it would be unjust and elitist, franchement, to blame Indigo CEO Heather Reisman for diversifying and jazzing up the product.
Nonetheless, after avoiding the mall with the Indigo store nearest to me for a couple of years due to the plague and sundry health issues, I was surprised to stumble upon the “sexual wellness products” section during a recent tentative foray.
Time was when — à la Woody Allen’s character in Bananas, who surreptitiously scoped out a rack of porn magazines wedged in between Time and Newsweek — lonely old library grubbers in raincoats peered nervously over their shoulders while riffling through pages of Fanny Hill or Fear of Flying.
Say, Ralph. How much is a copy of Orgasm?
Now convivial church ladies congregate at the checkout tills, piling up valuable Plum points for purchases of eco-friendly vibrators with two motors and 10 speeds, moisturizers, lubricants, G-spot massage candles, “stretchy cuffs for a touch of kink” and “accessory wash for menstrual cups and adult toys.” Self-help manuals (and I do mean self-help) come with titles like 101 Things to Do With a Vibrator.
Gosh, I just thought of 102.
More, more. I'm still not satisfied.
(Xaviera Hollander, eat your heart out. Or whatever that is you’re holding.)
As sales of sex toys shot, well, up during the pandemic, books not published by the editors of Goop became an afterthought (sort of like a satisfying Gauloise) in this whole, well, heady business.
But I still think that with a little marketing savvy and some title tweaks, there might be a postcoital place for dead-tree products in a budget-friendly, suction-vibe world.
Par exemple, how about pairing a Merry Wives of Windsor Magic Wand Coconut Milk Bath and Wipe Set with The Duracell Power and the Glory? Or Othellooooohhhh Soaking Salts and As You Like It Massage Candles with The Son Also Rises?
If one devotes a little effort to the remembrance of things plastic, there’s no limit to the possibilities: Low, Maxi and Middlemarch, say. Love’s Labour Found. The Handmaid’s Tail. Brideshead Revisited and Revisited and Revisited.
The Lord of the Vibrating Penis Rings. A Broom of One’s Own. The Sound and the Furry. Withering Heights.
That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I read it.
When correctly viewed, as the great Tom Lehrer once observed, everything is lewd. There’s no point tinkering with Our Mutual Friend, wink wink. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is fine as it stands. Ditto for Of Human Bondage, A Farewell to Arms, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Little Engine that Could, Far from the Madding Crowd, Tender is the Night, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea …
(Notice how I refrained from mentioning Moby-Dick and other low-hanging fruit like Eats, Shoots and Leaves.)
(Damn. I trust you didn’t have Great Expectorations.)
The point is that The Secret Garden is no longer a secret and we all know why the caged bird sings. The new Chapters in the house of mirth (or is it the other way around?) has opened up whoa! country for old men.
And literate church ladies, bien sur.
Recap the Naked Grape. Hold the celery and Velveeta. These days, who has time for book clubs?
Oh, and how much are those towels again?