May 5, 2015

What I did on Indie Bookstore Day




On Saturday, my colleague Alex Shephard and I celebrated the first national Indie Bookstore Day in our own special way: by visiting as many local bookstores as we humanly could. It was exhausting, eye-opening, calorie-burning, and a whole lot of fun.

And while we may not be strangers to these stores, it was certainly a treat to visit them on such an active and festive day as IBD. I started my day at Terrace Books in South Slope, where they were serving cookies provided by the nearby Brunswick Cafe. I thought “I love cookies! But I won’t need to eat any cookies. I certainly won’t be walking for miles while carrying a satchel of galleys that slowly transitions into a satchel of purchased books. I won’t get hungry anytime soon.” Ha ha! I was wrong. I should have eaten the cookies. I really should.

But after making a quick purchase, it was time to head out, and head out I did to Community Bookstore. Community Bookstore is a cozy and well-stocked store in Park Slope that, true to the spirit of the day, was serving free Sixpoint beer when I arrived at 1:45 PM. I like this store a lot. While there, I managed to say a very thankful hello to John, a bookseller who’s been championing The Ghost Networkand leave him with a small token of our appreciation.

And then I was off to meet Alex! We exchanged several pleasantries about the three things we’ve tacitly agreed are worthy conversation topics (krautrock, books, books about krautrock). We then proceeded together to Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights, which was just as eclectic and stuffed to the gills with books as I remembered. Books that include the entire Spurious Trilogy, by the way; the perfect three books to buy at any given time.

Alex and I parted ways after a few more pleasantries about krautrock (specifically, the guitar tone on Neu III) and I hopped a C train into Manhattan. Alex headed to Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, where he participated in a series of increasingly silly photobooth sessions. (ed. note: I also went to BookCourt, which was hopping, and full of old colleagues whom I love.)

After exiting at 23rd St., I ambled over to 192 Books, which along with a placard advertising Indie Bookstore Day greets any entering customer with a sign that simply says “Do your part to save books. Don’t shop Amazon.” This is a wonderful store already; their selection puts them over the top!

The next bookstore, Posman Books at Chelsea Market, was just a few blocks away, not counting the slow, inexorable slalom through clots of selfie-stick-wielding tourists within the market itself. However, the arrival at the store was most worth it. The bookstore’s Chelsea location receives a huge amount of tourist traffic and has a very well-stocked small press section located next to an eloquent, five-foot-tall wall-mounted sign explaining why Amazon sucks and so does shoplifting. It is a thing of beauty and I would recommend they license it and sell prints.

By then, my one-year-old iPhone was on its last battery legs, so I stopped in the nearby Apple Store to avail myself of a charging port. As I waited for my phone to absorb a few more volts of electricity and, I assumed, upload every incriminating piece of information on itself into the Central Apple Store Blackmail Database while simultaneously updating its copy of NSA-approved spyware, I allowed myself a few moments of abstract thought about the completely engineered retail experience of my immediate surroundings. The patented cubical glass shell. The specific jargon impressed during employee training. The wide, sunlit chatter-dome that is every Manhattan Apple store on a Saturday. For all their technical and branding savvy, Apple didn’t distract me for a minute. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and get to a small, intensely curated bookstore.

Which I did, walking downtown until I reached the West Village”s Three Lives and Co. Whenever I walk into this store I feel like I did the first time I entered a Manhattan bookstore as a young undergrad and thought “yeah, this is IT, man.” (Verbatim.) It makes me feel like I am home, and home is super nice. They drove this feeling home by providing salted chocolate toffee squares which, along with being the first solid food I’d eaten all day, were without a doubt one of the most fiendishly delicious desserts I have ever had the knee-buckling pleasure to sample. Three Lives is great.

Finally, I was off to my old haunt, The Strand, which was doing such brisk business that I barely recall my lap around the main floor. Suffice to say, the Strand is already busy on Saturdays; a national celebration of the business that it already is pressed the capacity of those narrow aisles to a wonderful near-breaking-point.

After I somehow managed to ride the train home without falling asleep in transit, I was ravenous and achey, but filled with a great sense of pride for my city and the booksellers who bust their collective ass within it, not so that they can be appreciated and their work celebrated, but because they want to sell good books to good people. Don’t appreciate them one day a year. Do it every day. Just don’t do it by walking to every store and telling them in person, because then your feet will hurt for days.

Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.