The Celebration of Bookselling luncheon at BEA on Thursday was a mix of excitement, gratitude and a call to arms. There was an almost universal thanks for indies and what we do. Richard Peck summed it up best by saying, ”Every journey begins in the bookstore.” He didn’t say the journey began online, or at a chain store. He remembered his childhood store and thanked them. Every journey begins with a book, and James Patterson created the call to the arms to keep all the indies.
What I love about these lunches is seeing so many authors in one place and hearing from them. So often, there is a division between the children’s books and the adult books, that we don’t always mingle for big meals. To hear the range of authors almost all universally sing the praises of indies and their meaning to their career is always gratifying.
Jesmyn Ward, I think, put it best: “Thank you for being family.” I sometimes forget that authors, no matter what level of fame they’ve achieved, are still people who get nervous, who doubt and who need support. And to be an independent bookstore staffer, we can find ourselves having profound effects on the lives of writers and illustrators at varying stages of their careers. When they are young readers, we talk to them about books, we encourage them to try new things and, if we are lucky enough to be a long-standing store, we see some of them come in with their own books. Maggie Stiefvater recounted a memory of going to her local store when her first book was published and the bookstore staffer held the door open for her so she could leave with her stack of books and her three-year-old. The symbolism of this is obvious: indies open doors for authors and the books we love.
Every speaker shared an anecdote about their local store, save for Kate DiCamillo whose speech was an homage to E.B. White. Always funny, she summed up writing and owning a bookstore pretty well; ”as long as you love, it will be okay.” Truer words were never spoken. Tom Nissley, who once came to BEA with an Amazon badge, is now two weeks away from opening his own independent bookstore in Washington state. Talk about walking the walk.
James Patterson, who has rightly become the darling of indies for putting his money where his mouth is by giving away one million dollars to independent bookstores, received a standing ovation when he walked in. In his acceptance speech he addressed the elephant in the room: Amazon. He pulled no punches in suggesting that ABA start working harder to stop Amazon’s desire to have a monopoly on bookselling, publishing and book buying. He dared to say things that we all think: when is someone going to do something? He suggested that the future of literature and the part it plays in our culture is in danger and when will we as a group get the word out that the fewer publishers there are, the fewer books will be published. He said the lower the profit margin for publishers means that fewer risky, literary books will reach the shelves. We need to get going with this and get in the press, both large and small publications, to educate consumers and to get others involved. Yes, it’s great to order online, but at what cost? Who outside of the publishing world understands the complexity of what’s happening with the Hachette – Amazon tussle? “We must latch onto this issue with vigor, passion and urgency,” Patterson said.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with him briefly after the lunch. it’s not every day I say to a bestselling author: “Thank you for having the balls to say what we’re all thinking.” Thankfully he smiled and said I was the second person to say that to him that day. I hope we all keep being galvanized and continue to realize that all journeys need to begin in the bookstore.