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In Praise of Independent Bookstores

This fall, I’ve been doing a New England “mini-tour” on behalf of the paperback release of Day After Night, my latest novel.

I’m not sure why, but the publicist booked me into independent bookstores only: Gibson’s in Concord, New Hampshire, Northshire in Manchester, Vermont, RJ Julia in Madison, Connecticut, Newtonville Books in Newtonville, Massachusetts, and Tatnucks in Westborough, Mass.

I couldn’t be happier about this.

Every independent bookstore is unique and in New England that often means ramshackle, which is the opposite of corporate. I love the wood plank floors and the kind lighting. You can actually smell the books in these stores. Best of all, the staffs are almost always helpful, smiling, and happy to be working there. (In all fairness, I’ve met delightful salespeople at big box stores, too, but that isn’t the norm.) The customers, too, are usually in a good moods. Sure, someone might run in to “pick something up.” But without bookstores, the verb “to browse” might well fall out of use entirely. Such a nice, slow word, “browse.”

A common question asked at readings these days is, “What do you think about the future of the book?” High-tech readers are growing in popularity; I see more and more of them on the beach, on buses and airplanes, in coffee shops.

I have no good answer to the question about the future of print – I have plenty of anxiety but no answers. But I do know that for all its ease and speed and portability, the e-book doesn’t smile back. For that you need a bookstore.

The people who turn out at indie readings love their stores and also their booksellers. It seems to me that a substantial part of the crowd is on a first-name basis with the person behind the cash register. Strangers chat with each other about books, secure in the knowledge they are among friends. It feels homey. It’s as close to “community” as a commercial enterprise gets.

Whenever I visit an independent bookstore, I ask my hosts how the store is doing. I ask with trepidation, the way you inquire after someone whose health is known to be frail. Bookselling is not a growth industry.

What I’m hearing is that business is okay, and better than last year for sure. The regulars are loyal. New people turn out for readings and buy books. I breathe a sigh of relief, say a little prayer, and say yes, I’d be glad to come back for my next book. My pleasure.

6 Comments

  1. helen on September 27, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I totally support indie bookstores and we have quite a few fine ones in Portland. Thanks for sharing this story about how others are doing in other places.

  2. femail doc on October 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    God bless the Tattered Cover here in Denver. A perfect place for a browse and a coffee, and hopefully their sales are keeping pace!

  3. Nicolas on October 12, 2010 at 2:16 am

    I also totally support indie bookstores ! It gives live in small cities.

    Nicolas Diamonds.
    http://www.internationaldiamondgroup.com

  4. Talia Carner on October 26, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Recently, an indie bookstore owner told me that customers come in to browse and get recommendations, then go online and buy it cheaper!

    There is something terribly unethical about this behavior. It also tells us how important independednt bookstores are as they are the ones feeding the machine….

  5. Talia Carner on October 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Recently, a bookstore owner told me that customers come in, browse, chat, and ask for a recommendation. Then they say they’d buy the book online cheaper!

    There is something terribly unethical about getting the service but refusing to pay for it. This also tells us that indpendent bookstores still feed the machine that makes bookselling possible….

  6. Jane Granatino on November 3, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    At some point you need to visit The Book Mill in Montague, MA. Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find. It’s lovely country, esp in the fall or spring, lots of antique shops around the area.

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