In this time of distancing, I’ve been nostalgic for those most ordinary communal experiences from the old world. Lunch with a friend, an evening at the theatre or cinema, a stroll through the museum: how easy it was to take these things for granted.
Bookstore haunting is one of my very favorite pastimes. At a rate that is probably unhealthy, I’ve stooped, rummaged, and squeezed through them. I’ve steered by them as pole stars, often navigating new cities by their lights. I’ve climbed into their little attics and descended into some dank clearance basements. Out of these hundreds of visits, I’d be hard-pressed to name one that hasn’t led to an interesting new discovery, an oddball used title, a surprising conversation with a bookseller, or an aloof bookstore cat. For an introvert like me, bookstores have been a portal to a much larger, more interesting world.
The University of Minnesota Press would not be where it is today without the support of independent bookstores. They are the first allies of small publishers and local authors, collaborating with us to plan events and building word-of-mouth for books on the front lines and through digital outreach. They are crucial players in the literary and cultural community on which we depend. It is their enthusiasm and skill that helps us launch a new author, revive a forgotten classic, create a cult favorite, and connect with our readers–with you.
If you’re like me, over the past month, you’ve also been thinking about the world to come. This crisis will inevitably make permanent changes to our economy and the way we live, and there are no guarantees that the things we love will still be there when we return. It’s a frightening thought, but also an empowering one, because we have a real say in what the world we return to will look like.
Independent bookselling is not an easy business in the best of times. The COVID-19 crisis has caused most to close their doors to the public, forcing the cancellation of book events, discussion groups, story hours, and the many other community gatherings that indie bookstores provide. There is a real danger that these invaluable “third places” will be lost.
However, indie booksellers have responded to this crisis the way they always have: with ingenuity, optimism, and love. From virtual story hours and book launches to curbside pickup and delivery, and personalized notes and confirmation emails, booksellers have risen to the occasion. Working around the clock to serve their communities, they have demonstrated that they are indeed an “essential service”–essential to our souls and the transmission of literary culture across linguistic, ethnic, and geographic borders.
Even in these uncertain times, there are a number of simple ways that you can support your favorite independent bookseller today.
Place a direct order (for a University of Minnesota Press title, perhaps!) through your favorite bookseller’s website, or a gift card for the future. To find a bookstore near you, use this handy search tool from indiebound.org or, if you live in our home region, check out the interactive map from the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. Remember that bookstores often stock board games and puzzles, too!
Order books for shipping through Bookshop.org, a wonderful new website that donates a portion of its proceeds to independent booksellers-as of this writing, the site has raised over $370,000 for the cause.
Donate to Save Indie Bookstores, an effort seeded by thriller writer and literary citizen James Patterson, to raise money for stores affected by the crisis. Proceeds from this fund will directly benefit independent bookstore owners and employees.
Sign up for Libro.fm to get audio books and be sure to designate your favorite bookstore as the recipient of the proceeds.
Subscribe to newsletters of your favorite bookstores or follow them on social media. It’s not only a great way to learn about amazing bookseller recommendations, but it keeps you looped into that vital literary community that we risk losing.
As readers and members of the literary community, this is our moment to show the independent booksellers we love how essential they are to our lives. It’s in our hands. If we join together in support, indie booksellers will still be there for us, too, on the other side of this–sharing their latest discoveries, bringing authors in for unique conversations, and providing a tangible space for the community to think, read, and create together. They will continue to serve as a bridge across the distances that separate us.
The cat will be there too, happily weaving and shedding in the stacks again.
Yours in solidarity,
Outreach and Development Manager
University of Minnesota Press