April 22, 2019
The national party celebrating independent bookstores has returned! Independent Bookstore Day (IBD), now in its fifth year, will be held on Saturday, April 27 nationwide, and here in Boston, we too will be celebrating on a local level. Metro Boston Bookstore Day (MBBD) - the local focus of the national Independent Bookstore Day - will highlight the collection of amazing independent bookstores we have in the area. Bookstores will be hosting authors, having special games and activities, selling exclusive merchandise, and more. Last year, bookstore visitors could pick up a “passport” bookmark, and get it stamped at each store; the passports return again this year, and those who fill up their passport can enter to win a free six month subscription to Libro.fm, the indie-linked audiobook app. New this year is an innovative way to get around town: the Bookstore Trolley Tour!
Metro Boston Bookstore Day is in its second year, and we caught up with organizers Clarissa Murphy and Katie Eelman to learn more about plans for the day, why indie bookstores matter, and how trolleys fit into the picture.
First, a little background on both of you. I know you're both booksellers. Where do you work/where have you worked? Describe your passion for reading and getting readers connected with books.
Katie Eelman: I currently work at a nonprofit legal advocacy organization downtown. Before that, I was at Papercuts J.P. I still sling books when and where I can - most recently with Clarissa and The Silver Unicorn Bookstore at the romance pop-up, A Whirlwind Romance.
I find connecting readers with books to be extremely rewarding work. When I have read something that moves me and someone else reads it on my recommendation, we are engaged in a social contract of trust, and love, and sharing. Stories have a unique capacity to act as a balm or a warning or an agitator or an entertainer, or all at once. It’s a special alchemy, and it takes some empathy, keen listening, the right questions, and some intuition to figure out how best to connect a reader to their next book. There’s nothing better than a reader following up to tell you that your last recommendation was exactly what she needed at the time.
Clarissa Murphy: I started my bookselling career on Martha’s Vineyard, working for Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. It was there that I got my first taste of how much I love talking about books with others, and learned the immense satisfaction and joy that can come with watching a parent buy a child a stack of books I helped them pick out. Even better? When they come back again and again, seeking you out because they love the books you recommend.
After that I moved to Boston, and started working for Brookline Booksmith. There I was given amazing opportunities to become more involved in the wider world of bookselling, and found the incredible family of indie booksellers who are the foundation of the book community in Boston, Cambridge, and the surrounding area. I’ve worked for Papercuts J.P., and Wellesley Books, and now I work for two stores: The MIT Press Bookstore and The Silver Unicorn Bookstore.
Each store is completely unique, with their own personality, drive, energy, and community. The foundation for each is the same: an undying passion for books and their readers. There is a unique magic in sharing a connection with a customer over something as personal as a book, in providing a safe environment for exploration, healing, escape, and adventure - all through the pages of a book!
Independent Bookstore Day is only five years old, and four years old as a national entity. The first "Metro Boston Bookstore Day" was last year, with you, Clarissa, and Jeremy Solomons from MIT Press Bookstore, coordinating. What was the thought behind creating a Boston-specific event? What did you feel you could accomplish in Boston specifically? Did you hit your goals last year?
CM: IBD is a nationwide celebration, that is now made up of localized celebrations as well. The Boston area has so many bookstores, all of which are connected. The amazing thing about Indie bookstores is that despite being individual businesses, we support each other, work together, and learn from each other. So the question I was asking myself last year was - how do we show our readers that connection?
IBD was the perfect base for a project that would begin to answer that question. Everything that MBBD does is a joint effort from all the stores. I might be the point where it comes together, but it is a community project, relying on the participation of the member stores and the readers who love them.
Success is hard to measure. If even just one reader discovered a new store to love, that would be success. Luckily, many readers discovered new stores!
How was the vibe last year? What were things you wanted to keep, and what were things you wanted to change for this year?
KE: Last year (and every year since the beginning of Independent Bookstore Day) I was at Papercuts all day. With each year the crowd is bigger, the sales are better, the vibe is more and more celebratory. I hope that for our Boston-area stores, this will be the best year yet.
CM: The vibe was upbeat, enthusiastic, and adventurous! We debuted a bookmark passport which listed all participating stores, and encouraged customers to try to reach as many as they could. We will be doing the same this year, and the passport will be a staple of MBBD in future years.
We hope the bookmark will be something that readers refer to year round, as a reminder of all the stores they have to explore. This year we wanted to push the envelope and do something truly unique, while keeping some consistency with last year. We want to keep the exploratory and adventurous vibe, which we believe the Bookstore Trolley Tours will do!
So, new this year are the Trolley Tours - which sold out fast! It sounds like people are psyched? How did that idea come together?
CM: Readers are very enthusiastic about the Bookstore Trolley Tours! The basis for the idea was the chronic Boston complaint: the difficulty of traversing the city via public transportation. The Bookstore Trolley Tour was the perfect solution!
Why should folks come out on April 27, and why should they hit a few different stores?
CM: Heart and soul, April 27 is about celebrating not only books, but individuality and community! Many bookstores pull out all the stops to plan unique experiences for their readers by bringing in authors, hosting live music, offering exclusive items, and more. We thrive solely on the strength and connection our readers and community have to us.
Finally, what's the role that bookstores play in society today? What's the role that indie bookstores are specifically playing in Boston? Is it more than just "buying a book"?
KE: Bostonians are beyond lucky to have so many terrific independent bookstores in their area. Independent bookstores are spaces for curiosity, conversation, and community. New ideas are born in bookstores, and dialogues take place, and human connection happens. A lot of times there are dogs in there, too, which is a bonus for sure.
They are also institutions that give power to the people. Take for example, Harvard Book Store, who printed the Mueller Report as soon as it became available, and who stayed in the store all through the night printing copies for the people to read in the morning. Or Brookline Booksmith, whose Transnational Literature reading series connects people to books from around the world that offer new perspectives, books that they’d not necessarily pick up if they relied on an algorithm on their computer screens.
The “independent” part of an indie bookstore is crucial - we need spaces and businesses that are locally owned and pay taxes to the cities they inhabit, who treat workers fairly and contribute to their communities. Where you spend your money controls the marketplace, so it is political, and it can also be proactive. We can make the book-world we want to see.
Visit the Metro Boston Bookstore Day website to find out more, “Meet the Indies” of the Boston area, and discover your next read with a selection of local bookseller recommendations. Visit the individual bookstore websites for specific events. And be sure to follow along and post on social media with #ibdboston.