Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Read This!" Say Indie Bookstores

I am generally a bit suspicious of books telling me what to read. They often strike me as gimmicky, slapped-together. But "Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores" (Coffee House Press, 2012), a small book edited by Hans Weyandt, had me at the word "indie"; the book immediately had credibility. I am (as I am sure you are, and as I have written about here before) a great supporter of independent bookstores. Although they are threatened by various forces, mainly electronic, and although many of them have -- sadly -- closed over the past few years, there are still many vibrant, wonderful, sometimes quirky such stores, and they are a great pleasure to visit. One of their characteristics is employing well-read, knowledgeable booksellers who are happy to help customers figure out what to read. This book expands on that concept. The editor asked booksellers at 25 independent bookstores across the U.S. to "name fifty books you love or love to pass on to other readers." The lists are the core of this book. Each "chapter" introduces the bookstore and then the bookseller at that bookstore who chose the list of 50, lists the 50 books, and then annotates a handful of those choices. The book opens with an introduction by the author Ann Patchett, and closes with some interesting facts about the lists, such as "Which book is listed most often?" (Answer: "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien), and "Which author is listed most often?" (Answer: William Faulkner). Another reason to buy the book is that the proceeds go to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. I am particularly glad to see that two of my favorite local bookstores, Book Passage and City Lights, are among the bookstores providing lists. My only small regret is that only a few of the books listed are annotated, but obviously annotating them all would be a major space issue. This book is enjoyable to browse in, check which books one has already read, and get ideas for new books to read. "Read This" is a small treasure.

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