In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was…well, not quite good enough, and Heather said, “Let there be aromatherapy candles.”

Or, if mangled Biblical paraphrases aren’t your thing, how about a romantic tryst among the travelogues? To quote Christopher Moore, former chair of the Writers Union of Canada, “It’s a Saturday night date now to go to the bookstore, browse around, have a coffee and meet your friends.”

In short, books have become the latest de rigueur lifestyle accessory. Well, literacy is good. And Chapters-Indigo makes it as easy for us as possible, offering us such guides as the odious “Heather’s Picks.” Because we all know (and want to emulate) CEO Heather Reisman’s impeccable taste.

One of Heather’s most recent burblings says one book “will provoke hours of conversation.” Conversation is good, too. As a means to an end. When did it become an end unto itself?

This vague unease intensifies when you walk past the Bay & Bloor Indigo store and see shelves of books nestled under the bold heading “IDEAS, OPINIONS & BELIEFS.” There you go. Come here to get your recommended daily intake of Ideas, Opinions and Beliefs. Surefire dinner-party amusement. Amaze your friends and family with your grasp of the situation in the Balkans or your interpretation of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems.

We know books used to be pretty dangerous things. Of course, we live in a liberal democracy where most anything goes. So when a book is banned now, it means…what? Well, we’re told Chapters-Indigo is no longer selling Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. How come? Fears of a Rosedale Kristallnacht? I doubt it. Hitler just isn’t the sort of topic that goes with a properly chilled Pinot Noir.

Chapters-Indigo’s opponents are screaming “monopoly.” They point to the chain’s dominant market share—30 per cent at its formation—as the death knell of the independent bookseller in Canada. It may well be. Lichtman’s, Canada’s largest indie bookseller, folded in March 2000—well before our Competition Bureau approved the Chapters-Indigo merger in April 2001.

Nor was it alone. Estimates suggest up to 20 per cent of Canada’s independent booksellers went under in the five years after Chapters arrived in 1996 (Indigo launching its first store in Burlington, Ontario a year later).

But economics isn’t the only problem here. High prices, limited choice and poor service are not the only things we face at Heather’s hands. We risk seeing the Word become a pastime. Cultural wallpaper. Something we can forget about once the conversation moves on.

And, while we’re at it, let’s talk about that “freedom of speech” thing. Or, rather, let’s be told. Come on, now—you don’t really think you know what you need, do you?

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