Notebook: April 21, 2019

Winding down from your holiday weekend and readying yourself for the season of growth and renewal? Seems like a good time to start planning for Independent Bookstore Day, a national, bookstore-based party held the last Saturday of every April (i. e., next Saturday). Independent Bookstore Day began as California Bookstore Day in 2014 and quickly went national. It now includes some 580 participating bookstores, some of whom at least have declared it among their best sales days of the year. Organizer Samantha Schoech told the American Booksellers’ Association: “In 2018, participating stores were up an average of 126 percent over a typical Saturday in April. Sales in the indie channel for the week of IBD were up 9.54 percent over sales in the comparable week in 2017. Bookstore Day has become a legit holiday for booklovers.”

Indie Bookstore Day is designed to play off independent bookstores’ differences, not to say eccentricities, but also to marshal their combined charm on behalf of the guild. The signature Indie Bookstore Day event is the passport tour: visitors pick up a passport at a participating store and collect evidence of visiting as many local bookstores as possible in a single day. The richest reward we’ve found for passport triumph is Seattle, which gives top-tier winners a full 20% discount at participating stores for a year. Two-time champion Moira MacDonald reported thus on her experience in the Seattle Times:

It’s not easy to visit 19 bookstores—the number required in previous years—in one day, particularly when ferry travel is involved … But it’s gloriously fun … I loved seeing a queue in the rain outside Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge (a line outside a bookstore? Be still, my heart!), playing book trivia games (and winning a book!) at the Neverending Bookshop, filling out an “Anna Karenina” Mad Libs at Elliott Bay Book Co., eating red velvet cake at the Secret Garden, and triumphantly finishing the day at Ravenna Third Place Books, about 12 hours after it began.

Anna Karenina Mad Libs, sign us up. Local variants have included animals (hedgehogs in Durham, at our former partner bookseller The Regulator; llamas, returning this year to West Portal in San Francisco; as well pettings of the humble cat), tarot, magnetic poetry, bingo, “drunk coloring,” bowling, and plein-air book hunting. Boston is chartering two trolley-style buses and offering a choice of routes. Libro.fm and Hummingbird, which partner with indie booksellers to help them sell audiobooks and ebooks (respectively), are offering freebies through participating bookstores; Libro.fm members are receiving bookstore-day offers to share freebies with their friends to spread the word. There is some excellent exclusive swag: t-shirts and tote-bags designed by Jane Mount, who collaborated with Thessaly La Force on the My Ideal Bookshelf project, enamel lapel pins (Morrison, Gaiman, Baldwin, Atwood, pictured above), a vinyl record of gravelly-voiced bohemian Charles Bukowski, an (annual, apparently) graffiti stencil of a badass quote from Susan Sontag, and a bunch of signed books. Scope out your local participating bookstores on this handy map. And photo-document your journey with your region’s designated hashtags to help juice the enterprise along.

Another annual feature of Indie Bookstore Day is its nationally appointed Ambassador. Past ambassadors have included novelist Emma Straub, who went on to open a bookstore of her own, Brooklyn’s Books Are Magic. This year’s Ambassador is An American Marriage author Tayari Jones (a fun Twitter follow, by the way), who will spend the day bookstore-hopping around her hometown of Atlanta. Indie Bookstore Day is a great moment to spot local authors in their native habitats. We’ve been struck lately by the number of stories of authors, like Jones, returning to the scenes of their youth that have also populated their fiction. Kiese Laymon’s memoir Heavy closes with his return, as a teacher, to Jackson, Mississippi, where he struggled so hard to procure his own education. Mississippi Today had this beautiful photo essay about novelist Jesmyn Ward’s return to the small town that was the basis for her fictional Bois Sauvage. The novelist Ann Patchett returned to her childhood home of Nashville to open Parnassus Books, whence she has herself become an eloquent advocate for local bookselling.

The idea that writers and readers, books and reading, come together in real places, the places where people do their reading and thinking and learning and arguing, and that these places are vital to the life of books, is very much our thing here at Book Post. In that vein, we were on the brink of announcing our latest independent bookstore partner when he jumped onto the national stage with a tweet explaining to a customer what they’re doing when they buy a discounted book. His thread went viral and was picked up a few states away by the Chicago Tribune, even as we were scheduling our phone call to work out the bookposty details.

Danny Caine was not born in Lawrence, Kansas, but he went to graduate school there and began his life as a writer. He got a job at the local bookstore, which had been founded thirty years before by two avid mystery readers, Mary Lou Wright and Pat Kehde, who, naturally, named their quixotic venture The Raven. Although the pair were not taken seriously by local business leaders, who considered them hobbyists and refused them a traditional bank loan, their business thrived and made money for every year but one out of a thirty-year run. Local support saw the founders through a grievous car accident (“the manager of the Kansas University Bookstore offered to send some of the staff over to help out, for free”) and the arrival of a chain outlet across the street (“When Borders started building the store, the Raven's landlord came over with an offer they, ultimately, refused. ‘He said, We're concerned about your store and Borders … so we're lowering your rent.’" The day Borders opened, in December, the Raven broke all their sales records thanks to solidarity-showing customers doing their holiday shopping. In the event The Raven outlived the chain.) “Professors at the university order fairly obscure books for classes, specifically from us because they want the kids to learn about the options in the marketplace,” said Heidi Raak, who owned the store for ten years after the retirement of the original duo. “Sometimes I get a little teary thinking about the support we get.”

Danny gradually realized that what had drawn him to Lawrence was its hopping literary culture, and when the chance came to chuck an itinerate teaching career and hunker down and buy the store, went for it. In the couple of years since he took over, he has focused his attention on creating a bridge between academic and literary life on the one hand and people in Lawrence who may not always feel spoken for or invited into those worlds. “I believe in diversifying representation in what people read and who gets behind microphones in Lawrence,” he says. To close the circle, Danny is a poet himself, a writer speaking to readers looking to connect with writers through bookselling.

So, lucky for us, we are announcing our spring partnership with The Raven in Lawrence, Kansas, the very week that Danny’s tweet ricocheted around the reading world and reminded everyone, as they pack their trail mix for Independent Bookstore Day, that the business of making and selling books is also the business of building book culture.


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Coming soon: Elaine Blair on Sally Rooney, Àlvaro Enrigue on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, more!

The Raven, in Lawrence, Kansas, is Book Post’s spring partner bookstore.

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