One of my favorite parts of traveling is supporting independent bookstores. Whether as grand as Powell’s City of Books in Portland or as humble as Corner-Stone Bookshop in Plattsburgh, indies across the country have gotten my support. And I don’t mean I walked in, said, “Nice bookstore,” used the bathroom, and left.
Much of my shelf space is a record of my travels.
You buy Rebecca Hourwich Reyher's Zulu Woman and Paula Gunn Allen's Off the Reservation because they catch your eye at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia and they’re dirt cheap.
Buy The Complete Stories of Truman Capote at Voltaire Books in Key West because you know it will be amazing when you finally get around to reading it. Throw Kingsley Amis's Everyday Drinking on top because the beginning made you laugh and holding it makes you feel sophisticated. Pay full hardcover price for both because fuck it, there’s only one Indie left on Key West and you get plenty of free books back home.
On the way up from key west, stop in at Hooked on Books on Islamorada Key. Buy Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family because you’ve never read any Ondaatje and the first page about stopped your heart. Add Lydia Millet's Everyone’s Pretty because you read and loved Oh Pure and Radiant Heart and always meant to read more of her.
At Books & Memories in Syracuse, be sure to buy Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle because Hilldawg raved about it, buy Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End because Abe Froman raved about it, and add Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for good measure, because you know you’ll read it sooner or later.
In New Orleans, it was FAB on Frenchmen, Garden District Book Shop, both Maple Street Book Shops, stores which have stood for decades upon decades. After the first visit to Beckham’s Bookshop, I learned to limit myself to two books per stop, lest the weight of my pack break my back.
I purchased people I’ve enjoyed - Tom Perrotta's Joe College, Ethan Canin's Emperor of the Air, David Sedaris's Naked, Philip Roth's Portnoy’s Complaint – and authors I’ve been meaning to sample - Lester Goran's Bing Crosby’s Last Song and Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly. These were books I could have found and purchased anywhere; the point was to support the stores.
Two finds stick out. Barb Johnson and Justin Taylor both caught my eye because I’ve never heard of either of them. I selected Johnson’s More of This World or Maybe Another and Taylor’s Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever in my usual fashion; I picked them up, flipped to the first page, started reading, and liked their words. Turns out both of them are NOLA favorites with strong bookseller support. They are also both published by Harper Perennial. No publishing house rivals Algonquin for consistent quality, but it gladdened my heart to see a division of such a large publishing house choosing these two voices. If I hadn’t gone to New Orleans, I probably never would have heard of them.
Which is good and bad, I suppose. With thousands of books published worldwide each day, you've got to let many of them go.
When I got back to Miami, I had Advanced Readers Copies waiting for me. There are new titles from the masterful David Mitchell, the amazing Kevin Canty, the haunting Tom McCarthy, and the compelling Kristy Kiernan.
I may not be able to read everything published this year, but it’s shaping up to be a great one.
(The urge to write “one for the books” instead of "a great one" was nearly overwhelming; I resisted, for you.)