One Carries On, Another Closes

If you’re a lover of indie bookstores and live in the tri-state area, then you may have heard of Farley’s Bookstore in New Hope, one of the most well-known shops in the Philly area.. Farley’s is unique not only for its rows and rows of fiction and nonfiction books, but also because it has one of the strongest poetry sections around, one which showcases small publishers and independent presses. The shop owners and workers even take the time to write thoughtful reviews on note cards about some of their favorite books from showcased presses.

I have been fortunate to read at Farley’s three or four times over the years, at least once with each book, as recent as last week for Waiting for the Dead to Speak. Each time I have read there, I’ve encountered an engaged audience not only willing to spend money and support writers, but also talk to you about their favorite poets.

I bring up Farley’s because this week, it got some national attention, this nice article in The Guardian. The shop has been operating since the late 1960s, and this attention is much-deserved.

While Farley’s received this recognition, it was also announced this week that RiverReads Books in Binghamton, NY is closing. A staple of the community since the early 2000s, RiverReads has been a hub for literary activity in the college town. The store will shut its doors by Jan. 31, 2017, according to this announcement published on the website by the owners. The owners write, “Our plan was to offer a gathering place for all things literary and artsy, a place to share ideas and converse with the community.  Well, we did just that … in eight years we held almost 900 events.  Planning those events was important because we wanted to offer something for everyone.  We wanted to highlight the very talented local authors, to give them a chance to share their words with those who might never have known about their books. ”

I’m grateful I had the chance to read at RiverReads a few times over the years, first, back in 2011, a few months after my chapbook Front Man was published, and then for a launch party of Harpur Palate, and lastly, a few weeks ago for Waiting for the Dead to Speak. Like Farley’s, RiverReads always managed to draw an engaged crowd interested in poetry. Beyond that, the store stocked a wide array of books.

Let’s hope that Farley’s can keep doing what it’s been doing for the last several decades. Meanwhile, let’s mourn the closing of RiverReads, a much-needed indie bookstore in a city that is still trying to recover economically.If you have an indie bookstore in your community, please, make sure to support it. These places not only are important for authors, but they are a lifeblood and cultural center point for their communities.

In Honor of Indie Bookstore Day

In honor of Independent Bookstore Day this May, I wanted to share some of my favorite bookstores across Pennsylvania and give some reasons for why you should spend some bucks at these places. I’ll also note that according to that Washington Post link I shared, since 2009, indie bookstores have increased nationwide by 25 percent. That is indeed something worth celebrating, especially since so many people declared bookstores would be dead by now, once Borders went out of business in 2009 and Barnes n Noble closed a slew of stores. Maybe the gradual demise of the behemoths led to the increase in indie bookstores. Regardless, indie bookstores provide important community spaces, so their growth is worth nothing.

With that said, here are some of my favorites:

Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg PA.  This store sells new and used books as well as some oddities and rarities. Simply put, this shop is HUGE and features thousands and thousands of books. Each genre, including poetry, features walls and walls of shelves. Furthermore, the staff is helpful and friendly and can help you find the book you’re looking for, or order it for you if it’s not in stock.  Next to The Strand, this is the biggest bookstore I’ve ever been to. Furthermore, the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel runs a wonderful reading series every Thursday, which includes a featured reader and open mic. Check it out!

Farley’s Bookshop, New Hope, PA New Hope is a gorgeous Philadelphia suburb with a lot of colonial history. On its main street is Farley’s. I included this shop on the list because it has one of the largest indie press collections for fiction and poetry that I’ve ever encountered and handwritten notes about each press taped to the bookshelves. This display is front and center of the store.  Also, check out the monthly poetry reading series, which includes a feature and then open reading. Make sure to pet the store cat, too!

Doylestown Bookshop Doylestown, PA Doylestown is another quaint Philly ‘burb. Though the bookshop has reduced its stock in recent years, it can’t be understated how much local authors are welcome to do events, including monthly poetry readings, book signings, and discussion groups.

Sellers Books & Fine Art, Jim Thrope, PA This is one of the finest second-hand bookstores I’ve ever been to, period. Enough said. Oh, and it has a store cat.

This is my list, and I’ll also add Caroll & Caroll’s in Stroudsburg and the Book barn in West Chester. Let’s make sure that we celebrate and shop at the indies as much as possible.

The Space for Poetry

Lately, I’ve been re-reading a lot of Adrienne Rich’s poetry and essays, in part because I’m working on a field exam about the intersection between personal narrative poetry and social and political issues. Beyond my research, I’ve always enjoyed Rich’s theories and poetry and teach her work when I can. There are two essays/notebook entries of Rich’s I’ve been thinking about lately, “The Space for Poetry” and “What Could We Create?,” both available in What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics.

In both pieces, Rich addresses poetry’s dilemma in the U.S., namely that is not leashed to profit and consumerism, so it is pushed to the margins, given little space in public discourse. In “What Would We Create?” she states that poetry has been placed under house arrest and is irrelevant to mass entertainment culture and wealth, thus out of sight and out of mind in a hyper-capitalistic society.

In another essay/journal entry from the same collection, “Those Two Shelves, Down There,” Rich explores this idea a bit more while addressing chain bookstores and the fact poetry occupies very little space in such stores. She concludes the essay with the statement, “I’m on a search for poetry at the mall. This is not sociology, but the pursuit of an intuition about mass marketing, the so-called free market, and how suppression can take many forms-from outright banning and burning of books, to questions of who owns the presses, to patterns of distribution and availability.”

I keep thinking about Rich’s essays and journals on poetry and politics and this idea of accessibility and poetry under house arrest. I keep thinking of these essays as yet another report has surfaced that Barnes & Noble plans even more stores closures by year’s end. With the loss of the indie bookstores, thanks to Borders and Barnes & Noble, and now the loss of the chain stores, thanks to Amazon, what does that mean for the state of poetry and its accessibility? Sure, Amazon and other online stores offer countless poetry books, but don’t most people visit those sites with specific purchases already in mind? I find it quite unlikely a consumer is going to discover a poet by browsing Amazon.

There are certainly numerous poetry events happening in communities and countless reading series, but young poets only get better from reading, reading, and re-reading different poets and different traditions. As much as I’ve griped about Barnes & Nobles’ poetry selection, the closure of more stores means greater inaccessibility to poetry. What does that mean for the future of poetry? Will we continue to see the journals and magazines filled with names of recent M.F.A. and Ph.D. grads because they’re the ones most reading poetry? I don’t know, but I’m optimistic that maybe, just maybe, the loss of the chain stores will lead to the rise of more indie bookstores in communities again, run by people that stock not only the heavyweights, but also indie authors and small presses. We’ll have to wait and see how this all shakes out, and meanwhile, I’ll continue to ponder Adrienne Rich’s warnings.


Good News for Bookstores?

Over the last year or so, Poets & Writers has been profiling different indie bookstores around the country, while running a few feature stories about the return of the bookstore. One of the bookstores they profiled was Parnassus Books, run by best-selling novelist Anne Patchett. After I read the article and the nice write-up in The New York Times a few years ago, I thought, well, it’s great that Patchett’s Tennessee-based bookstore is doing so well, but is the success simply because Patchett is famous?

There is a recent poll, however, that should be good news for bookstores. Rasmussen recently found that 75 percent of American adults would rather read a print book as opposed to an e-book. It has yet to be determined whether or not this will translate into success for bookstores and perhaps the growth of small, indie bookstores in communities, but it does prove that despite the e-reader fad of the last several years, people like reading print. The poll also found that 66 percent would rather read a newspaper in print as opposed to online. What is unclear, however, is whether or not this would be true for younger people. The poll was mostly conducted through LAN lines, and most younger people only have cell phones. It would be interesting to conduct another poll, say on people ages 18-30. Would the results be different?

At the very least, the poll provides some good news for bookstores. People still like print!

Don’t Forget the Indie Bookstores This Holiday Season

The Atlantic has a wonderful feature story in its current issue about novelist Ann Patchett’s Nashville bookstore, Parnassus Books. The article, written by Patchett, makes a compelling case for indie bookstores and highlights how well her store is doing, so well that she has several orders to fill a day. The bestselling author notes that indie bookstores are a true benefit to the local community, especially since most of them host events and author readings that foster intellectual discussion and allow audience members to interact with writers and have books signed. When asked about the age of the e-reader, Patchett says that most indie bookstores do sell e-books, so it’s possible to shop at such stores and still read a book on your I-Pad.

The article made me miss the bookstores I used to frequent, especially Anthology New and Used Books in Scranton, which used to host several community events, before it closed in 2011. Any writer will tell you that having an indie bookstore in a community only makes for a stronger local literary scene. They provide a homebase, a meeting space, thus building community. Over the last few years, I’ve read poetry at several indie bookstores throughout the tri-state area. Here is a list of some of my favorites, and most of them sell stock online.

Sellers Used Books and Fine Art: Located in Jim Thorpe, this bookstore is run by fine artist, Randall Sellers. He has hundreds of books for sale, used and at a fair price.

The Doylestown Bookshop: This store mostly has new books, across all genres. It also has a strong monthly poetry series that includes one featured reader, then an open mic. The store’s website is easy to navigate, so you can shop from home.

Farley’s Bookshop: Located in the historic town of New Hope, this store has the most impressive selection of poetry I’ve seen at any bookstore I’ve visted in PA. Furthermore, the store supports several indie presses/publishers. It also has a strong, well-known monthly poetry series that includes a featured reader and open mic.

The Wise Owl Bookstore: Located in West Reading, this bookstore is quaint and small, but has some surprising, interesting selections and several community events.

Autumn Leaves Bookstore: This is a large new and used bookstore located at the Itacha Commons, in Ithaca, NY.  If you ever go there, make sure to stop by the record store in the basement and the Wise Owl Cafe on the top floor.

Caroll & Caroll Booksellers: Located in Stroudburg’s downtown, this store has rows and rows of used books, with a heavy concentration in fiction. It’s worth visiting if you’re in the Poconos, especially since the store doesn’t have much of an online presence.

RiverRead Books:  This Binghamton, NY-based store has several community events and a decent selection of stock that can be purchased online or at the store. Check it out.

I’m sure there are some stores I’m forgetting, but these are the ones I know well because I’ve read at them over the last year or two, and I came home with several books that I purchased. If you have an indie bookstore in your community, please support it. As Patchett mentions in her article, the success of indie bookstores depends largely on the power of the consumer and the choices we make with our money.

What’s the literacy health of your city?

The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog recently posted the results of a study done by Central Connecticut State University analyzing the “literacy health” of major American cities. It’s a cool study, so I thought I would post some of the results here. The study focuses on several key indicators of literacy, including number of bookstores, library resources, educational attainment, and newspaper circulation.

Here are the top five cities for literacy health:

1 Washington, DC
2 Seattle, WA
3 Minneapolis, MN
4 Atlanta, GA
5 Pittsburgh, PA

What surprised me most is that NYC is number 26 on the list! Philadelphia is 31, Chicago 28, and Boston 12.  Some other categories exist, and those results can be read here.