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.