Bookstore Backlash: Salman Rushdie Calls Farhad Manjoo a “Moron”

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 15 2011 5:31 PM

The Internet Defends Independent Bookstores

124755601
Writer Salman Rushdie, who called Slate's Farhad Manjoo "a moron."

Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote an essay championing Amazon over local bookstores. Bookstores, according to Manjoo, are “frustrating,” “difficult to use,” and “economically inefficient.” Amazon, on the other hand, has “ignite[d] a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books.”

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

The backlash against Manjoo’s piece was immediate and, in many cases, intensely emotional. (The headline in the New York Observer—“Everybody in New York Hates Slate Reporter Who Complained About Indie Bookstores”—was only somewhat hyperbolic.) Novelist Salman Rushdie, no stranger to criticism himself, tweeted, “Book lovers are ‘cultists’? Maybe, but this man is a moron.” Algonquin Books, an independent publisher, called Manjoo’s piece the “Dumbest article of 2011” (perhaps an allusion to the question Slate posed last week). Slate commenter Alvin Orloff, in the fine tradition of schoolyard taunts, retorted, “Farhad Manjoo is expensive, inefficient, and doesn't deserve to be saved.”

Advertisement

Many of the responses to Manjoo’s piece were quite a bit more calm and composed. Some writers, tweeters, and commenters defended independent bookstores by praising their communal nature. On Flavorwire, Judy Berman disputed Manjoo’s comparison of the aesthetic experience of browsing an independent bookstore to that of shopping at Whole Foods, saying, “For many indie bookstore lovers, myself included, part of what is important about supporting these businesses is that, unlike Whole Foods, they’re small, and we can get to know the people who own them.” In a Salon piece called “What Slate Doesn’t Get About Bookstores,” Will Doig argued that “Unlike almost any other kind of retail establishment, bookstores operate as quasi-public neighborhood trusts that give city dwellers more than they receive in return.”

Others took issue with Manjoo’s claim that Amazon does a better job of nourishing the book industry than independent bookstores. “Independent bookstores serve as the test market for new writers,” and without that test market, novices might never find readerships, contended Chandra Steele of PC Mag. In Slate’s comments section, author Jess McConkey offered support for Steele’s claim, recalling, “At the beginning of my career, I received a tremendous amount of support from those independent booksellers that you are now suggesting no one frequent.”

Economic arguments played a role in some rebuttals to Manjoo’s article, with many respondents arguing that independent bookstores strengthen local economies in ways that Amazon can’t. “Local independent bookstores pay sales tax, first off, so as far as I’m concerned that should be an end to the argument there,” wrote the independent bookseller behind the blog The Towering Irrelevance in a response that, at over 3,000 words, was perhaps the most thorough on the Internet.

One of the most thoughtful reactions came, perhaps unsurprisingly, from novelist Richard Russo, whose New York Times op-ed critical of Amazon’s practices spurred Manjoo’s piece. On Facebook, Russo examined Manjoo’s praise of Amazon’s low prices in a philosophical light:

Mr. Manjoo admits that he’s a fan of both Amazon and comparison shopping because, he says, he hates “paying more than he should.” That’s an interesting choice of words. Does he mean, for instance, that he hates paying more than he “has to”? This is the crux of the matter. What should we pay?

In a conclusion that was perhaps the polar opposite of Salman Rushdie’s tweet, Russo wished Manjoo (and everyone else) “the happiest of holidays.” He continued, “Thanks to technology, we have interesting questions to ask ourselves about what we’ll buy this year, and where and why. Our job, Mr. Manjoo’s and mine, is not so much to answer those questions as to articulate them clearly.”

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 23 2014 10:30 AM Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 11:34 AM Louis C.K. Crashes a Brad Pitt Interview on Between Two Ferns
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.