Blue Notes, Orientation 2019
On 112th and Amsterdam lies a Columbia staple. Over the years, Book Culture has become an integral part of most Columbia students’ lives. It’s where a freshman gets their LitHum box set, or the place you know you can rely on for a last minute textbook before an exam. With the Columbia Bookstore’s overpriced textbooks, supplies, and overflow of Pantone 292 merchandise, it’s no surprise that most students will say they prefer the local bookstore to one that lies on Columbia’s campus.
As much support as Book Culture may seem to get from the Morningside Heights community, like most small bookstores in America, it has hit peaks in financial struggles this summer. As the chain’s owner, Chris Doeblin, announced in a Facebook post and video on June 24th, its four locations simply cannot compete with big companies like the Columbia Bookstore and their relationship with Barnes and Nobles, warning that they would most likely have to shut down in the months to come.
Illustration by Rea Rustagi
Since their announcement, Book Culture has received lots of support from the community. People have sent letters to the City Council, Mayor, and State Government officials. They have raised over $100,000 from anonymous pledges. To continue this, Book Culture has created a Community Lending Program– a way for community members to get involved socially or financially in order to promote the future success of Book Culture.
While rumors have been floating around that this is just a PR stunt to increase the shop’s revenue, this announcement has brought a very legitimate discussion to the table: local bookstores are simply not supported by communities as much as they need to be. If bookstores can’t stay alive in New York– a city that is often fueled by publications like the New York Times and the New Yorker– what does that mean for the fate of bookstores in more rural areas across the country?
Before Beto O’Rourke announced his candidacy for the 2020 Presidential election in March, Columbia students got a preview to his ideas and motives. The Columbia grad appeared on campus early Spring 2019 to speak to a handful of Columbia students, answering questions about politics and policies. He was positively received by the student body, with posts in support of his (at the time) non-existent candidacy swarming all social media platforms. At the same time, these posts and discussions on his potential presidency were created with the knowledge that there was no way O’Rourke would run, as the former United States rep has continuously told the public so. Yet, shortly after his Columbia visit, O’Rourke threw together a campaign.
Support from a group of undergraduates might not have been the key factor in pushing O’Rourke to run, but it was probably a confidence boost that couldn’t have hurt. However, his abrupt decision to run definitely shows—there’s no overarching, explicit reason for why he’s running. While he makes thoughtful comments on Medicare and immigration, his campaign doesn’t have any defining features. Additionally, with his muddy position on student loans, it’s interesting that so many Columbia students took and continue to take a great liking to him.
Illustration by Sahra Denner
Perhaps we swooned over O’Rourke because his strident liberalism in a race against Ted Cruz was refreshing and encouraging, but when he’s up against other democrats, being well spoken just isn’t enough.
Columbia students view this candidate through a very particular, insiders lens. We know he had to complete Core requirements just like us, and that his Columbia career started off with a position on the lightweight rowing team. Being a lion makes O’Rourke extremely familiar, maybe even relatable. However, to the rest of the American population, O’Rourke is a candidate without a narrative.
On an early August morning, a crosstown quintet met with the sole purpose of determining the best bagel purveyor near Columbia: Wu + Nussbaum, on Broadway and 113th since July, or Absolute Bagels, on Broadway near 108th since Dinkins’s mayoralty.
We procured our Wu samples just past 7:00 a.m., then replicated our order at Absolute: one everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, and one egg bagel with plain. We arranged the goods on joined metal tables under Absolute’s harsh lighting, as if they were specimens to scour.
Dylan Roston, CC ’22, appeared giddy in the Soviet hospital-esque setting. “The whole point of having bad decor is then you can’t rest on it,” he proclaimed. “Your bagels have to be good!”
Illustration by Sahra Denner
“I’m not sure Nuss is resting on their JewishAsian fusion decor,” Gustie Owens, Barnard ’22, retorted. “Like, I’m not sure that’s much to rest on.”
We avoided a fracas over furnishings by digging in. Francesca Barasch, CC ‘22, who grew up two blocks away, couldn’t be persuaded. “I like Absolute so much better,” she confessed early on, mid-chew, her words tumbling in gobs of schmear. Limp scallions notwithstanding, Owens agreed, and awarded the Absolute staff points for silently vetoing the “toasted” part of our order. When gleaned, this power move provoked perspirant seeds to sprout on one group member’s forehead.
But Wu wooed Sophia Cornell, CC ‘20, who had emerged from her summer abode, a kitchen on 109th, to embrace her role as the group’s “diversity—non-Jew—hire.” She praised the Wu everything bagel’s crunchy exterior and potential to cure a hangover. When only wrappings remained, Cornell threatened to return to her fellowship applications. Roston absconded with a bag of Absolutes for his private-equity colleagues. Barasch and Owens lingered to parse prison-abolition praxis. The jury hadn’t delivered a unanimous verdict, or even formed a majority—but why split hairs? Everyone was full.