What’s your favorite independent bookstore?
Independent Bookstore Day is here, hooray!
The last Saturday in April, Independent Bookstore Day (IBD) is celebrated nationwide, often with fun events and readings planned. Why do indie bookstores deserve their own day of recognition?
Because as indiebookstoreday.com states,
“Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers.”
In the Tri-Cities, Washington where I was born and raised, both Bookworm Books and Adventures Underground offer more than just books to buy. They have author events, sell book art and accessories, and Adventures Underground also carries records and board games. They regularly have groups playing games in their back room. Also their Caterpillar Cafe has an amazing chai tea latte, and if you ask, they will add lavender and make it even more tasty!
In the Dalles, Oregon you can stop by Klindt’s Booksellers, the oldest bookstore in the state and talk to their staff to get book recommendations. I had the pleasure of talking shop with one of the owners/operators Joaquin Perez, and his enthusiasm for keeping business up while making sure they aren’t competing with their neighbors was infectious. They also host some fantastic author events, and when I was there they were preparing for Sherman Alexie! Jan’s Paperbacks in Beaverton, Oregon is a small new and used bookstore, and they are celebrating IBD with in-store specials, a local author, and free cookies all day long. Big or small, indie bookstores want to celebrate!
In Eugene, Oregon there is Smith Family Bookstore, a crazy-huge store filled with tons of books, some two deep on the innumerable shelves, with even more stacked on the floor in front of the shelves. And in Ashland, Oregon The Book Exchange has some neat treasures within and Bloomsbury Books has a great open layout and a lovely coffee shop tucked away upstairs. Every indie bookstore I’ve been to lately has had an array of diverse books and authors on display, though in Ashland Shakespeare was everywhere, so there was quite a bit of dead-white-guy on display too. Regardless, seeing more diversity in bookstores is the best!
Out here in Portland we have Powell’s Books, one of the most famous indie bookstores. Whether you visit their flagship store that takes up an entire city block or one of their smaller locations, you can listen to and meet authors (I got to listen to Roxane Gay speak when her room filled up, and I met Marissa Meyer and Felicia Day there!), be part of a book group, and get great reading list suggestions. They are very in tune with the current political climate, proudly displaying signs welcoming everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality, into their stores. Their recent reading lists include “Black Lives Matter: recommended reading,” “Immigration Stores: celebrating our multicultural narrative,” and “#read&resist: 15 fiction and 12 nonfiction titles to check off.”
Powell’s isn’t the only bookstore that wants to be accepting while also challenging their customers to maybe read outside their comfort zones. Across the country people are turning to books to find answers. I mean, it’s not particularly surprising that 1984 has become a bestseller again, or that more folks than ever are picking up A Handmaid’s Tale (and yes, the Hulu series is also a draw, I know).
At the American Booksellers Association 2017 Winter Institute, many members wanted to discuss racism, how to help indie bookstores flourish even with current events, and how to handle things like the Milo Yiannopoulos-Simon & Schuster book deal, along with ways to protest that deal. Christin Evans, co-owner of the Booksmith in San Francisco, California, cut her stores Simon & Schuster orders by half and donated profits from their other titles to the ACLU. She said “[it is] worthwhile for us to have a conversation about the role of the activist bookstore.”
This year Indie Bookstore Day isn’t simply celebrating these amazing spaces persevering against the big bad chain bookstores.
It is celebrating the people who work there and love books, who can help customers seek solace in them, gain some enlightenment, get them mad about an issue they didn’t realize was even an issue, and keep them coming back for more. Though activist bookstores have been around for quite awhile, 2017 seems to have pushed more bookstores into activism than ever before.
Whitney is lucky enough to live on the East Coast, and when I visited her last year we went to Kramerbooks & Afterwords. That space was crammed full of books, and after the election I wonder what books they have been promoting, and what kinds of conversations are happening around the Pulitzer-winner The Underground Railroad next door in Afterwords, the best-named cafe of all time.
After Trump’s immigration ban went into effect, Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts highlighted authors from the seven countries where immigration was banned. Dana Brigham, co-owner of Brookline, said
“We strongly believe in giving a space to all voices. With this ban, that’s not what’s happening. These voices aren’t being heard; they’re being censored.”
One of the indie bookstores I am most excited about recently opened in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Bird Cage Book Store and Mercantile is Native American owned and operated. They specialize in Native American Books of the Northern Plains. Owner Lily Mendoza said
“We are dedicated to preserving our stories by carrying literature of our indigenous writers and making sure our people and others have access to these stories and books.”
Indie bookstores also help improve literacy by aiming customers to books that are either at the correct reading level for them, or that will push them a little more. They also help fight against censorship, often creating programming specifically around banned books. As more challenges arise, they work hard to address them head on. It’s a tough job, but they are willing and able to do it!
Have you checked out the local independent bookstores near you?
Chances are that even if nothing is planned for IBD, there will be plenty of awesome programming you should check out.
And even if your local indie store doesn’t have a lot going on, you should still celebrate the fact that they are sticking around, so that our reading opportunities aren’t limited to simply Barnes & Noble’s newest offerings.
America is a nation of independence, and while that seems to currently be under threat, independent bookstores are here to help arm you in the fight against oppression. Join them. Support them. And celebrate them on April 29th.
Rock on, indie bookstores, rock on!