Celebrate the upcoming Fourth of July with hot dogs, watermelon, fireworks, or what have you, but please also consider supporting an independent store this Independence Day -- in particular, an indie bookstore.
My husband and I recently experienced true heartbreak when we discovered that one of our favorite bookstores in the country, Books Etc. in Portland, Maine, had closed. (They still have a location in Falmouth that we plan to check out.) Quite frankly, we still haven't gotten over the closing of WordsWorth Books in Harvard Square, though we are glad for the continued existence of Curious George Goes to WordsWorth. We loved these stores, we put our money where our hearts were, and we still lost them.
Why do we love our indies? Because more money goes back into the community. Because they feel the way a cozy bookstore should. But mostly, because their staff picks and store displays are consistently more interesting than the center tables at the big stores -- why, yes, I have already heard of Malcolm Gladwell, he's been on the bestseller list for nearly FIVE YEARS, I can't imagine that there is a book-buying household left in America that hasn't got a copy of The f*$&ing Tipping Point, and I can't believe that this space is being used for books we all already know about. There's a Barnes & Noble affiliate near me that has had Lolita on its "notables" table for literally years now. Yes, it's a notable book, but it's been around since 1955 and had at least 2 movie adaptations, I think we've all heard of it by now, so does it honestly need that much promotion? Or is there perhaps a NEW BOOK that the shoppers might like to have brought to their attention instead?
Don't get me wrong, I understand the need to have a best-sellers table and to stock books that will make money, but the staff at indie bookstores tend to have more diverse recommendations (e.g. something besides The Kite Runner), and for that my husband and I are extremely grateful. Going to a larger bookstore makes us feel like there's nothing new on the shelves, when of course that just isn't so. When we go to an indie bookstore, we nearly always walk out with something promising and unexpected.
A final anecdote: yesterday I dropped by one of my favorite local indies, to ask about the upcoming author readings. This was because I've made a commitment to start going to more readings, in particular those readings that would otherwise be sparsely-attended. Two staff members went through the list with me, and crossed off a few authors who they knew would draw a good crowd (I'd love to attend those as well, but readings often conflict with a certain beloved toddler's bedtime, so I have to pick and choose), and we decided that probably the best thing to do would be to call 15 minutes before each reading started, and zip on over to show support if it was needed.
Then one of the booksellers asked me why I was seeking out the potentially less popular readings, and I said that I was just starting out myself, and I figured that if I can't get off my ass to support unknown and debut authors, how can I expect others to support me when my turn comes?
"Oh!" he said, a large and utterly genuine smile spreading across his face. "You're a novelist? And with a toddler at home? That's just fantastic, congratulations!"
Yeah. I love independent bookstores. Get off your ass and go give them some money. I'm putting some links on the right-hand side to help you find one near you.
Coming this Friday: my first blog contest