Where can you find a book titled How to Make Applehead Dolls alongside Bomb Detection Squads and Planets and Interplanetary Travel? For the month of October, these and other equally eccentric titles will rotate through Scanners, a temporary used bookstore developed and operated by Matt Borruso and Nick Hoff.
Borruso, an artist, and Hoff, a writer and translator, are long-time booksellers, both online and at local flea markets. Usually forced to follow the whims of their customers (Hoff often sells textbooks he knows little to nothing about), for the past year and a half, Scanners became an excuse to pick up books solely for their immediate and personal attraction. The combined result, a collection of art, architecture, graphic design, film, theory, typography, fashion, science fiction, poetry, and craft books (to name just a few categories) covers a broad range of subjects while remaining tightly curated. Aesthetics play a large part: most of Scanners' offerings are incredibly visually appealing. Counting on this, Borruso and Hoff utilize a decadent amount of space in displaying the shop's wares.
The store, rented for the month from Mina Dresden Gallery, is long and high-ceilinged. Immediately inside the door, books are arranged salon-style on the two facing walls. These are the brightest of the bunch, the weirdest and most object-like. Their appealing arrangement makes them almost untouchable, but a shopkeeper will oblige -- if you are curious enough -- to remove books from the wall. Moving inside, Borruso and Hoff have created further juxtapositions on three large tabletops. While some groupings suggest completist collections, other pairings (The Feminine Mystique next to a book of homoerotic fiction) reward diligent browsing with a satisfying chuckle. Bookshelves of varying height and color, sourced from Craigslist, surround the tables. The overall organizational structure lies somewhere between flea market display and austere art installation. On the far wall, a screen hangs from the ceiling, ready to provide the backdrop to a series of talks by artists, archivists, and academics, each examining aspects of contemporary print culture.
The bookstore's name is a reference to both the activity of looking -- scanning a bookstore shelf -- and a recent shift toward amateur book sales. Using smart phone apps, people with little to no knowledge of the book market can now scan ISBNs to determine the resale value of used books. Perhaps you have witnessed this yourself: crouched in an aisle, they doggedly scan back cover after back cover. Twenty Tom Clancy novels later, they move on down the alphabet to Michael Crichton.
Amateurism aside, now is a strange time in print culture. E-readers continue to rise in popularity; Amazon now sells more digital books than physical tomes. Bookstores have become showrooms for later online purchases rather than retail establishments in their own right. Earlier this year, we watched Borders, the bookstore turned everything-store, magnificently go under. But this collapse possibly signals a shift away from anonymous mega-establishments, and a desire for increasingly specialized venues.
Funding from the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grants Program allows Borruso and Hoff to run Scanners without worrying about the long-term feasibility of the project. But the store also serves as a proposal: Can a highly curated environment draw attention to the object-hood of books in an increasingly dematerialized world? Judging by the opening night, patrons are more than happy to rely on Borruso and Hoff's interests and expertise to guide them in new and intriguing directions. And with prices starting at $2, bibliophiles beware: Scanners will slim down your wallet and fill your shelves, but you won't regret it one bit.
Scanners runs through October 31, 2011 at 312 Valencia Street in San Francisco. For more information visit scannersproject.com.