Independent publishers and bookstores: Healthier than you think?
The Huffington Post, despite its liberal bent, is not my favorite news source, but I do have to give the site props for its week-long series celebrating independent publishers, bookstores, and, in its final installment, books.
Before saying anything nice, let me get a few kicks in: I usually find items in (on?) HuffPo both thin and bloated — puffed up with too much attitude and not enough reporting. But then what can you expect from a news outfit that doesn’t pay most of its contributors and employs few if any copy editors?
Of course, exceptions can be found. HuffPo is a decent aggregator of news from organizations that do actual reporting, with copy editors and everything, and its lead news page is often worthwhile. So are the reports and commentaries from people you already know about, like Ariana Huffington herself.
In fact, HuffPo is a kind of bazaar or flea market: A few stalls of glittery new brand-name merchandise near the front, then a warehouse of knick-knacks, knock-offs and bric-a-brac extending into the dismal distance. If you have the time to rummage, you can find the occasional treasure amongst the junky bloggerhea.
That said, HuffPo did excellent work in its week-long independent publishing series, in honor, of course, of Independence Day.
Festivities started July 1, with “Bookstores We Love For Their Spirit of Independence”, which featured all of my favorite indie bookstores, including Miami’s Books & Books, Denver’s The Tattered Cover, Powell’s of Portland, Ore., and Manhattan’s Strand Book Store.
But it also highlighted stores I don’t know, like Zion Bookstore in Salt Lake City, with its unexpected selection of African-American literature. This reminds me of one of my fondest pipe dreams — a tour of America, organized around independent bookstores. Were there but world enough and time.
A few days later, readers supplied another selection of beloved independent bookstores, this time including SoHo’s McNally Jackson, the Grolier Poetry Bookshop of Cambridge, Jane Addams Bookshop of Champaigne, Ill., New Orleans’ Faulkner House Books, and Village Books of Bellingham, WA.
On July 2 and July 5, HuffPo featured independent publishing houses, including Melville House, Archipelago Books, Black Widow Press, New Directions (est. 1936, one of the oldest indie publishers), McSweeneys, Algonquin, Graywolf Press, and Copper Canyon Press–this last a tiny house without which I’m not sure American poetry could survive.
And finally, to the magic itself, the books. On July 4 (how appropriate!), HuffPo listed “9 Big Books From Small Publishers,”, leading, naturally enough, with Paul Harding’s Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press), last year’s surprise Pulitzer winner for fiction. Others: Shoplifting From American Apparel (Melville House), by Tao Lin; Muriel Burberry’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa); and The Summer Book (New York Review of Books Press), by Tove Janssan.
The series concludes with a list of readers’ favorites, featuring titles such as Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone (Melville House); Gilbert Sorrentino’s The Abyss of Human Illusion (Coffee House Press); and the wonderfully titled Monkey See (ENC Press), by Walt Maguire.
All in all, it’s hard to imagine a better tribute to indie books and publishing– heartening exhibition that makes you think maybe books and bookstores constitute a salvageable enterprise. Kudos, HuffPo. This all inspires a new pipe dream: For a year, I’d like to read nothing but books published by small independents, purchased only at independent book stores. Maybe someday.