“What is the Future of the Independent Bookstore?” @ CUNY Graduate Center

Last night, I attended this event at CUNY Graduate Center in which literary agent Eric Simonoff moderated a panel featuring authors Jonathan Ames and Simon Van Booy; Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson Books; Zack Zook, general manager of BookCourt; and Roxanne Coady, owner of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Hartford, CT. Thanks, Shannon, for letting me know about this!

Aside from it being an engaging and humor-filled discussion – a much needed break from the stress of these final weeks of the semester – it was really great to hear the panelists touch on topics and themes I’ve been exploring and making connecting threads in my head to some of the research I’ve been sifting through. A few things that stuck out were the increase in events programming at indie bookstores, authorial relationships to specific stores, and the family legacy of running these businesses (Zack’s parents are the owners and buyers of BookCourt).

The discussion of authorial relationships to stores was especially interesting to me because in some cases, I’ve had a hard time sussing out which authors have strong ties to which stores. For this panel, Sarah McNally and Zack Zook were actually asked by the moderator to invite a specific author to join them. Zack chose Jonathan Ames because Ames has lived in the BookCourt neighborhood since the 90s and aside from doing readings there and recently filming a scene of his show Bored to Death there, he has been a longtime browser and customer of the store. Sarah McNally talked about how Simon Van Booy came in to give yellow roses to a staff member after the store was influential in selling copies of his debut collection of short stories The Secret Lives of People in Love. He has been a friend of the store ever since as a customer and an author. These relationships are the contemporary parallels to those of Allen Ginsberg and the St. Mark’s Bookshop or Anaïs Nin and the Gotham Book Mart in past decades.

While at this stage in the semester, I don’t have much time to incorporate anything I picked up from this panel into my actual project, I wanted to write about the experience of attending anyway. After all, it’s a part of the process to dip into the multifaceted discussions others are having about this subject.

One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this! Even though, as you said, it’s a little too late to incorporate this experience as “data” into your project, it does reinforce the relevance and importance of your research topic. At the very least, you could perhaps reference the panel in one of your textual arguments — maybe the conclusion.

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