In Praise of Bookstores
Or, A Welcome Letter from the Editor
I lived in a bookstore in Paris for six months. It was a romantic and terrible experience: a Turkish toilet, cheap wine by the Seine, all the books I could ever read, cockroaches at the bottom of syrupy cocktails, freezing nights on a short cot in the art section. Wonderful and terrible.
While there, I met the man who would introduce me to my wife, the man who would give the speech at my wedding, and the man who would—years later, in New York—kick-start my professional life. Three different men, one bookstore.
The wife in question owned a bookstore in Brooklyn. It was there I went after Paris, for my first job in New York, cash-in-hand at the end of a shift. I loved that job, loved more what it led to. My wife now runs a different bookstore, in a different town. Happily, it has both bar and children’s section—my four-year-old and I can be found there often.
Bookstores have always been central to my life, and remain so: for the pleasures they afford, the opportunities they provide. Bookstores, at least for my young family, are both escape and livelihood.
I do not think of bookstores as an endangered species. I think the opposite is true. But I will say this: if we don’t buy books at our bricks-and-mortar bookstores, if we fail to use our libraries, we risk losing them.
One of the men mentioned above wrote a book about the time we all spent living in that bookstore in Paris. It was good, but nobody got rich from it—it came and went like an old yarn shared among friends at the end of a long night. It exists now, out in the world, as a fixed set of memories, a series of bright and fading stories. There are millions of books like his—worthy, unique, deeply felt—that suffer a similar fate. We will talk about some of those books at Literary Hub, and many others: we will steer the conversation from the old to the new, the iconic to the obscure.
By we, I mean my colleagues and I on the masthead, our many partners from across the world of literary publishing, our book-loving readers, and perhaps, most importantly, the hundreds of booksellers who’ve generously lent their names to this project. They are the ones on the frontlines of literary culture, immersed in books, in love with books.
As an editor, I am excited by the contributions we’ll be featuring at Literary Hub in the coming weeks: essays from Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda, Chantel Acevedo, Teju Cole, Ashley Ford, Russell Banks, Tracy K. Smith, conversations with Laura van den Berg, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Porochista Khakpour and Catherine Dunne, Maggie Nelson, literary reporting from Paul Constant and Michele Filgate, a biweekly podcast from the inimitable Paul Holdengraber, and much more.
As a reader, I’m excited by the bookseller recommendations we’ll be sharing, the curated reading lists, the undiscovered gems, the backlist reclamations, the frontlist euphoria. Our “recommendation engine” is all-too wonderfully human: an opinionated, passionate, tireless community of booksellers, each one ready to fall in love at the turn of a page, and happy to tell you all about it.
This was supposed to be an editor’s letter, welcoming you to a new website about books, writers, and readers. So, welcome, and thank you for coming.