Patchett, Erdrich, Keillor – Book proprietors

Patchett, Erdrich, Keillor – Book proprietors.jpg

The current issue of The Atlantic (Dec 2012) has a story about Ann Patchett's new bookstore in Nashville. The story, written by Patchett herself, is titled "The Bookstore Strikes Back," but interestingly the issue's cover refers to the story as "Me vs Amazon," which is really the story of every independent bookseller these days. Patchett and her business partner, Karen Hayes, opened Parnassus Books after Nashville's only two bookstores closed. It's a great story about the angst of living in a city with no bookstore, the wild idea they worked out over lunch one day, and the work of turning the idea into a brick-and-board reality.

You can read the whole piece online at this link, but here's the last paragraph:

"Maybe it’s working because I’m an author, or maybe it’s working because Karen toils away like life depends on this bookstore, or because we have a particularly brilliant staff, or because Nashville is a city that is particularly sympathetic to all things independent. Maybe we just got lucky. But this luck makes me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves."

I applaud Patchett and Hayes. I can't imagine living in a city with no bookstore. The metropolitan area in which I live (Minneapolis/St. Paul) is blessed to have a number of book-buying options, including two author-owned bookstores. Birchbark Books is owned by Louise Erdrich, whose novel "The Round House" just won the National Book Award for fiction. Common Good Books is owned by Garrison Keillor.

Keillor's store recently moved from one of the greatest corners in St. Paul to another location, which I haven't been to yet, but the last place was filled with nooks and crannies where you could sit and ponder a stack of books before making your final purchase.

Birchbark Books is nestled into a residential neighborhood down the block from one of Minneapolis's finest lakes, Lake of the Isles. It is small, cozy, and filled to the brim with books and has a wonderful children's section complete with a little reading fort. The restroom is plastered with poetry cut out from magazines, and the staff could not be more helpful or generous with their reading suggestions. Once I got into a conversation with the woman working there (who I think is the manager and I regret now not knowing her name) about something and she found me a few minutes later and gave me a related article that she had just printed off after finding it online.

We also have Magers & Quinn, which is fabulous and the largest bookstore in the area. It frequently has author readings and sponsors literary events throughout the city. On the north side of St. Paul is the lovely and classic Micawber's. Since it's a bit of a hike, I don't often get there but when I do it's always an inspiring visit. Plus we still have a number of Barnes & Nobles, which I also much appreciate. Such good fortune, to live where there are bookstores. I'm grateful to the owners and management staff who work so hard to keep the doors open.

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