December 14, 2015

Reading with the stars: New bookstore only stocks books picked by celebs



Ari Shapiro’s reading recommendations at One Grand Books. Photo: Matthew J. Novak/New York Times

The editor-in-chief of Out magazine and founder of Grand Editorial, Aaron Hicklin, has just started a new venture: One Grand, a bookstore that only stocks titles handpicked by Tilda SwintonLena DunhamMichael Pollan, Edmund White, and other “creatives” in the public eye. Here, recommended reading is the only reading, and each selection of celeb-chosen books is on sale for a limited time.

The store that started as a pop-up in the Whisper Editions bookshop in South Street Seaport in New York City last summer has now found a home two-and-a-half hours upstate, in a former mercantile building overlooking the Delaware River in Narrowsburg, New York. Inspired by the hypothetical question, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have ten books, which would they be?,” the project attracted early attention as a more extreme version of what blogger Jeremiah Moss called “curated” bookselling.

Hicklin is relying on the appeal of big names and the hunger for a carefully crafted book-buying experience, and it’s hard not to trace the concept to By the Book-type interviews that are the staple of literary journalism. As Mimi Vu explained in a recent profile in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, “Hicklin aims to make bookselling more selective and personal—in other words, everything that Amazon is not—by attaching familiar names to titles and having them explain why those books have shaped them.”

Hicklin, who told the Delaware Valley River Reporter that he’s always drawn to the staff picks sections in traditional book stores, has been careful to note that he’s less interested in having books selected by “celebrated individuals,” preferring “individuals who do what they do excellently. The books are a reflection of their development and their evolution. But they’re also just great recommendations.”

In the profile in T, Hicklin explained that one of the particular joys—and challenges—of the job has been in tracking down some of the more obscure and out-of-print books, such as a rare treatise on 17th century urn burial selected by the artist Raymond Pettibon, and or the out-of-print Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant, chosen by John Waters. But other picks have been more standard: Michael Stipe chose KerouacRimbaud, and Vonnegut, and Michael Pollan is a fan of EmersonThoreau, and Upton Sinclair. For those who aren’t able to make it to the store, the lists, all briefly annotated, have been printed by in a series called “My Bookshelf, Myself.”

The appeal of knowing what a public figure reads lies in the opportunity to glimpse that person’s particular tastes, and even the thrust of his or her intellect. Hicklin is betting that this appeal will translate into book sales.



Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.