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Sunday, 24 April 2011





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Formative years of a literatus


"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there"- L.P Hartley

The famous opening sentence of L.P Hartley’s novel The Go-Between (1953) amply demonstrates the vital role that nostalgia plays in fiction in general and in biographies and autobiographies in particular.

Pablo D'stair

Pablo D’Stair, born in 1981, is a writer of novels, short stories and essays. As a literary philosopher, he produces the twice annual series of book length dialogues (Predicate) with various, contemporary independent literary artists.

He is the founder of Brown Paper Publishing (2007, closing operations in 2012) and the independent press KUBOA (launching July 2011) which focuses on releasing novellas and collections of short fiction from a variety of US and international authors.

He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA) with his wife (novelist and co-publisher Sarah D’Stair) and two children. He welcomes any and all communication, be it about his work specifically or any associated subject of literature, philosophy, or publishing, and can be contacted at [email protected].

The literary term nostalgia is defined as a strong yearning for the past, very often in idealised form. In other words, it is a general interest in the past eras and their personalities, places and events.

This series of self-contained stories portraying the personal history of post-modernist writer and regular contributor to Montage, Pablo D’stair is not only biographical sketches of a writer but also a portrayal of life in the USA.

Written in a down-to-earth language, the series cover formative years of the writer from his teenage years to his maturity into adulthood. What Pablo presents in Seven Stories about working in a bookstore is not the idealised past but the past with ups and downs, vividly realised descriptions about people, places and perhaps, many editors in his life.

The rather eventful teenage life he spent with books in a bookstore records an important phase in the kind of life particularly in the context of US publishing industry.


Nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in an idealized form. The word has its roots in the Greek language. ‘Nostos’ means to ‘return home’ and ‘algos’ means ‘ache or pain.’ It was also, described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy.

However, in common usage, nostalgia in general, is an interest in past eras and their personalities and events, especially in the ‘good old days.’ Sometimes, it is brought on by a sudden image or remembrance of something from one’s childhood.

Nostalgia is a powerful motif woven into the very matrix of the seven stories. It is the yearning for the lost past which has been an important period in the personal history of the author.

The past is looked at from the perspective of a teenager. Though the experience of an individual at a given time marks a millestone in one’s life, it is invariably reflected upon the lives of a generation. Often the nostalgia is an idealised past.

However, the difference in the seven stories lies in the fact that the author does not idealise the spell he worked in a Bookstore. It is a period of mixed feelings; ups and downs which mark the teenager’s progression through a passage of time culminating in his maturity as a fully-fledged man. In Seven Stories, nostalgia serves as an important motif of the narration.

Portrayal of principal characters

Another important factor of the narration is the portrayal of principal characters such as Peter Crisp, the manager of Bravado Bookmark, a bookstore where Pablo worked as a teenager. His character is vividly realised in the narration in a candid manner.

“Peter Crisp was the manager of Bravado Bookmark, a thing he seemed to take simultaneously as a badge of distinction and a cross to bear—he was middle-late thirties, seemed baked by life, wiry and out of shape, bent over a cigarette or incessantly scuffing his hair.

Narrator Pablo D'stair

I was still fledgling to retail work, so it was easy for him to spin himself as some kind of poor man champion of the free world to me—not that I believed him, but I had no call to know that he didn’t really do any work and so had little to complain about, littler still to hold his head up, over.

It was made evident fairly quickly, though, that the rest of the staff didn’t particularly cotton to him—a sad thing, in retrospect, because it wasn’t so much because he was a flawed leader, but because he was standing in their way from advancing to slightly better hours, retaining the same rate of pay (not that they showed any clear indicators of being able to breathe life into Bravado, they were just waiting out the retail evolutionary clock, easier than looking for work elsewhere). “

The writer skilfully encapsulates with a remarkable economy of expression the attitude on the part of Peter to Bravado Bookmark when he says that Peter who is in his late thirties, considers his position as a manager ‘as a badge of distinction and a cross to bear’.

Particularly the use of phrases such as ‘baked by life’ amply demonstrates, among other things, the author’s ability to paraphrase the hard life that Peter spent into apt description. For the seven stories, the author has used first person narrative in an effective manner.

First person narrative

One of the fundamental characteristics of Seven Stories about working in a Bookstore, is the effective use of first person narrative. However, the stories are not narrated in the form of diary entries which have been put together in a chronological order.

Unlike in a third person narrative, using first person narrative would inextricably link the author to the story. In fact, in these stories, the author is a character and plays a prominent role in the narration.

It is pertinent to look at, briefly, the use of first person narrative mode in literature. What the common practice is the use of third person narrative mode where the narrator does not directly involve in the plot and describes unfolding events and characters in a fiction.

However, in an autobiography or autobiographical sketches, the narrator is none other than the writer himself or herself. There are rare instances in literature where instead of ‘I’ , ‘We’ is used to narrate the story. For instance, in the Short Stories Twenty-Six Men and a Girl by Maxim Gorky and A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, first person plural form has been used.


In the novels Anthem by Ayn Rand, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase, Our Kind by Kate Walbert, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, plural form of the first person narrative mode has been effectively used.

Depiction of teenage years

The depiction of teenage years of the author is another prominent characteristic in the series. The 18-year- old boy achieves maturity through ups and downs and fighting with the uncertainty in the American labour market.

Before he joined Bravado Bookmark which was a bookstore, he had worked at Baskin Robbins in the same strip mall and he had used to steal Crime and Punishment. What is important is not the fact that he had stolen books from the bookstore where he later worked but the fact that he had cultivated the habit of reading at an early stage in his life.

“ When I was eighteen-years-old and had a job at Baskin Robbins, I worked a really amateurish register grift and on my breaks I would walk to the bookshop at the other end of the strip mall to steal copies of Crime and Punishment. I stole a total of three copies over the course of a few weeks, just because I liked doing it.


The Bravado Bookmark was the epitome of strip mall bookshops—it was something that had no reason to exist, but it did. Throughout my life I had built up a kind of unconscious affinity for such places—from the odd Crown Books (that eventually became a Pet Shop) near the comic book store I frequented until I was about fifteen to the Super Crown that took up space next to the Party Mart (and eventually became the Party Mart) in the shopping center where the new grocery store was built when I was kid, even to the J.B. Dalton on the lower level of Mall I used to go to—the places held a wonderful allure. I mean, I had no reason to think of a bookshop as anything different, and in these shops I had come across all of the wonderful and formative literature of my life.

From next week on , Montage will serialize Seven stories about working in a Bookstore by Pablo D'stair

Bravado, it was just a storefront I would see, I’d never once gone into it until it was to steal books. “

The series of stories commences with the boy joining the Bravado Bookmark. The bookstore was situated at an odd place with a little or no sale and had to be closed down towards the end of the series. The central theme of the story, apart from the author’s childhood, is the depiction of the milieu albeit in a miniaturised form.

“I was still in high school for the first few months of my stint at Bravado Bookmark. Because of where my school was with relation to my family’s house (a good thirty, forty minute drive) my mother had gotten me a small apartment, provided I work to pay at least a good portion of the rent—this suited me fine, because before I had the apartment I would just stay in the town where I went to school (my girlfriend lived there, so I wanted to be there as much as possible) either spending the nights out of doors or bumming places to sleep where I could from friends.

It was my friend and classmate Morgan Wire who had gotten me my first (short-lived) job at the movie theatre in the same strip mall as Bravado. He was the sort who was chomping at the bit for the release of the new Star Wars films, doing whatever he could to get his hands on pieces of information, leaked trailers, etc.

I had no feeling about the films, one way or the other, other than a half-formed (mostly borrowed from people older than me) stance that the films were a bad idea, the originals should have been left alone. “

Though the stories give out very little details of the life in which the author spent his teenage years, some of the details such as the kind of independent lives that the high school children enjoyed even in 1970s, among other things, suggest the high degree of freedom that teenagers enjoy in the USA.

Seven Stories about working in a Bookstore codifies not only the formative years of a writer but vividly realised life in the USA in the context of publishing industry.


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