Shelving Halloween

September 17, 2011 — We’re all mourning (and contributing heavily to) the demise of the physical bookstore. One day soon, thanks to Internet retailers and e-readers, we’ll no longer be able to marvel at the accumulated knowledge and silliness of humankind collected in a single large room, flip through magazines that we’d never want delivered to our own houses, and leisurely get lost in a labyrinth of tall bookshelves as we randomly judge books by covers.

However, lost in all this losing is that the death of the physical bookstore means the death of the holiday book display table. Every holiday, the staff gathers all the relevantly themed books in the store and places them out on a table in the open to both sell to holiday-minded shoppers and to contribute to the overall ambiance of the book shop.

At Halloween, this means a table full of spooky books, with everything from guides to local ghosts to works about the mythology of monsters to creepy art books to haunted histories to media tie-ins. Actually, it means at least two tables, as there’s always a Halloween book display table in the Children’s Literature section, as well.

The other day, we dropped by our local Barnes & Noble to check out its Halloween book display tables before the entire store fossilized and to see if there was anything worth ordering on Amazon.

They placed the Halloween book table pretty prominently. I mean, not as prominently as the Nook kiosk or the bestseller displays with their inevitably bland covers dominated by typface, but still in a place where every “shopper” would pass by.

Man, there’s something about covers and covers and covers covered in monsters and gathered into a pyramidal tier that can make you happy that this Halloween thing caught on in the mainstream. Sure, technically, you can get something similar in any Horror Literature section during any time of the year, but those are placed in shelves, with only their thin spines hinting at the ghoulish artwork currently squashed against an adjacent book.

On the Halloween book table, the books are all displayed with aplomb. The covers make the ambiance more than the subject matter. The coolest thing I saw on the table was a large hardback called The Addams Family: An Evilution, about the art of Charles Addams and the famous macabre family that he invented. Oh, and this:

Of course, way more fun than the adult Halloween book table is the children’s Halloween book table. It’s here that you’ll find more jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, witches, gravestones, and other assorted monsters and child-suitable death references per square inch of cover than anywhere else in the Halloween world, all artwork-driven in delightfully spooky styles. Heck, my bookstore couldn’t even fit all the Halloween children’s books onto one display, and had to erect a second one, plus a display dedicated to R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Childhood really is the highpoint of our lives. What a dumb way for our life form to evolve that we can’t look forward to it.

Incidentally, we got into trouble for taking these pictures. Copyright, the Barnes & Noble staff person said. Poppycock, is the answer to that, since I rarely get the perfect opportunity to use that word. Granted, the acronym for their store is "BAN" and we were using a DSLR with a three-foot-long lens set on a five-foot-tripod and bookended by side-lighting equipment rigs run by a full camera crew and make-up girl, but still, it’s an extremely ridiculous policy from every angle.

Big boo on Barnes & Nobles…and not the Halloween greeting kind.

However, hitting up their Halloween book displays got me to thinking. What’ll happen to this retail tradition when physical bookstores get Fahrenheit 451'd by the digitization of the world? It genuinely worried me, so I decided to take action. After thinking about it a bit, we put together our own Halloween book display table at our house as part of our Halloween decorations. I hope it’s a good idea, because we’ve sacrificed eating at our dining room table for the rest of the season for it: