Occupy Bookstores: Trotsky at the Train Station

Barbara's Bookstore, a retail kiosk about the size of the Cheeseboy grilled-cheese stand it sits next to in South Station, has become an improbable locus for political discourse; a few feet beyond the Lee Child and James Patterson paperbacks that line its external shelves are works of radical thought.

Faced out on a display shelf marked "Staff Recommends" are a number of books not geared toward bleary-eyed commuters en route to Bridgewater: A Time for Outrage! by the French resistance leader Stéphane Hessel, Debt: The First 5000 Years by the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau.

"[Occupy] causes people to be a whole lot less ambivalent," explains bookseller Mark Rimbach. "People come in and say, 'I need to learn more about anarchy.' "

As soon as the occupiers moved to Dewey Square, Rimbach and his coworkers put up a shelf of titles related to the movement. To their surprise, the books started to sell very well.

But not to the protesters.

"I don't see people at Occupy having time to read or money to buy things," Rimbach says. "It's older people out [at Occupy] for the day who come in here and want to talk to us about it. A lot of people are trying to educate themselves."

Unsurprisingly, Barbara's couldn't keep Zinn and Chomsky on the shelves. But, says Rimbach, fiction about political struggles also had a moment in the sun. He sold several copies of Dickens's Hard Times, Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic, and the Joyce Carol Oates collection Last Days. Popular too were novels with what Rimbach describes as "figurative socialist themes" like those of Aldous Huxley and H. G. Wells. And don't forget about Robert Service's Trotsky: A Biography.

With books about Trotsky selling like hotcakes at the train station, perhaps the revolution is close at hand — but maybe not.

"We still sell Bill O'Reilly and that guy who cries all the time," Rimbach says. Glenn Beck? "Yeah, him."

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