Hope for Indie Bookstores

I’m hearing stirrings and rumblings, far and wide, about ways to fight the constant death blows to indie bookstores.

There’s been a revival in community supported projects on several fronts, like green markets and CSA’s. And now, at Parnassus Books in big city Nashville and Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, NY, people by the hundreds are buying shares to open – or keep alive – indie bookstores. I bumped into the notion on Utne Reader, which has a great video of a Colbert Report spot on indie bookstores, from an interview with Ann Patchett who started Parnassus. Read the NY Times article about what she’s doing here.

Then there’s the emergence of NYC storefront retailers, a few of them bookstores, as described in a Metrofocus Op-Ed, Occupy Manhattan Storefronts. It appears that chain stores of all kinds are losing ground, and small shops are gaining by connecting with their neighborhoods.  Booklovers Fight for Stores Uptown remarks, “Neighborhood bookstores offer a smaller selection of books targeted for a local audience. ‘You don’t get a Washington Heights section from Borders,’ said Veronica Liu, Word Up’s founder.”

I think community interest in neighborhood indies is more than rebellion against (now defunct) Borders and (struggling?) Barnes and Noble, quelled by bloodthirsty Amazon. It’s also dismay, after removing the blinders, about what we’ve lost. A bit of guilt about our own passive complicity. And a few smart people who are taking it upon themselves to do something about the mess.

The other day I was eating breakfast with my writing group at a local village restaurant, and noticed a change in a storefront window across the street. Oh yeah, said my friend Judy. There’s a new bookstore coming to town.
She’s the mayor’s wife, so she ought to know. The occasion clearly called for strapping on my tap shoes, but in deference to fellow diners I let out a ladylike whoop. We turned to stare in open-mouthed wonder, then one by one we turned back to our pancakes and shared remembrances of the bookstores that failed to thrive in our charming downtown.

This time will be different. If our glorious new shop starts to go under, I’ll be pulling people in off the streets to sign up for shares.

Published: High on Meeting Readers

Last winter at a party, I saw a good friend whom I hadn’t seen in ages. It was just after the launch of Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, which she had bought and read. She introduced me to friends in a book group, who suggested they make the anthology their April book of the month if I’d come and answer author-type questions.

In response, I offered a panel: three from Warwick with stories in the book. I wasn’t sure Anita Page and Fran Cox would want to make the long drive with me to the Poconos in PA, but the lovely book group folks were enthusiastic. What’s more, they decided to combine two local groups, and to do a potluck dinner for which we needn’t contribute a dish! (It’s as if they had prior knowledge of my culinary skills . . .) So on the day of the scheduled event, the three of us trundled off shouting, “Road trip!”

It was a super evening, not least – in my case – because I’d barely taken my seat with fork in hand when one of them exclaimed, “To think I’m eating dinner with the author of The Understudy!” And yeah, I did need to confirm she was – mostly – serious.

We settled down in the living room, twenty strong. They’d bought and read Fresh Slices and clearly enjoyed it. They asked everything: from how we came to write the stories, what inspired our characters, and did they feel alive as we wrote? They wanted to know what our connections were to the New York neighborhoods we wrote about, then moved on to the composition of short stories, the publishing experience, and why we wrote such dark stuff. Was there violence in our pasts? (Not the first time we’d been asked that question!) Who were the New York Sisters in Crime? How was writing short fiction different from writing a novel?

The experience was so much better than peddling the work. They’d not only read the book, but were eager to meet some of the authors. Some of them were writers themselves, and all were fun and smart and genuine.

I’m sure any day (ahem) this kind of thing will no longer be a novelty. Until then, the three of us count ourselves lucky to have had the chance to talk about our stories face to face with readers, and to realize the reception they’ve had beyond friends and family.