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Editors’ Picks: Independent Bookstores

December 14, 2012

The staff's favorite independent booksellers offer their own December recommendations.

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This is one of the first examples of first-wave feminist literature and its impact is as strong today as it was in 1899. I very seldom cry while reading, but this book had me weeping on the train. It is both heartbreaking and victorious, and embodies what it means to care about a character. I read it the first time as an undergrad, and loved it. But I think I hadn’t felt enough heartbreak, then, to truly appreciate it. I was only just beginning to learn what it meant to be trapped in a relationship, and to sacrifice your soul for your culture, how debilitating that can be. Rereading it now, its psychological depth is astounding.

McNally Jackson is an independent bookstore in New York City. We have two floors of books and a lively events series, and are staffed by enthusiastic book-lovers.

Sarah Gerard, Essays & criticism, travel essays, and poetry, McNally Jackson

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A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

After almost 10 years, Dave Eggers has finally returned to the world of literary fiction. A Hologram for the King, chosen as one of the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2012, follows Alan Clay, a struggling businessman on a last-resort attempt to save his company. The story takes place in an on-the-rise Saudi Arabian city, where his plan is to pitch his company to the mysterious and consistently non-present King Abdullah. Clay needs this success to continue paying his daughter’s college tuition, while also fulfilling a sense of accomplishment. In the midst of our current economic struggle, the book is both pertinent and timely to the strife of the businessman. Eggers shines through his ability to be unflinchingly honest and realistic on the hard facts of contemporary life, while at the same time maintaining his light-hearted sense of hopeful hopelessness in the midst of economic despair.

Boulder Book Store is Boulder’s largest independent bookstore with 20,000 sq. feet, more than 100,000 titles, and three floors. We host more than 200 events in the store and in the community each year and have been named “Best of Boulder” by local papers since 1987.

Kyle Warren, Marketing & Promotions, Boulder Book Store

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J R by William Gaddis

J R by William Gaddis is a novel that comes recommended not just for its relevance to various financial crises and burst bubbles that have afflicted us since its publication in 1975, but for its unique style and meticulous genius that made Gaddis quintessentially representative of post-modern literature and a direct influence on an immeasurable glut of novelists to come. At over 700 pages, comprising mostly of unattributed dialogue and no chapter breaks, J R is a sometimes rather difficult and often hilarious and prophetic epic about the role of money in twentieth-century America told through a middle-school student who learns about stock and commodities trading from a field trip and builds a financial empire over his school’s payphone. Gaddis has an unmatched ear for human speech and the kind of characteristic patience that is necessary to construct tomes like this and his first novel, The Recognitions, a masterful thousand-pager about authenticity and forgery published twenty years prior. A dense and rewarding modern novel, J R is made of the stuff that will make any hungry reader feel full.

Mojo Books & Music is located in the USF area of Tampa, FL. Mojo features a wide array of used and new books, vinyl records, cds and dvds—not to mention a serious coffee and tea bar.

Robert Simmons, Book and Record Buyer, Mojo Books & Music

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Selected Stories by Andre Dubus

Dubus is devastating in the best way, and this book is the perfect introduction to his work. I’m always shocked more people haven’t read him, as he is one of the best short story writers I’ve encountered. These Selected Stories are about Catholicism, and the Northeast and once the South, and boys and girls and the things they do to each other. Fall/winter is the perfect time to curl up with Papa Dre Dubs (my nickname you are welcome to adopt; I panic about pronouncing “Dubus” and to differentiate him from his talented son, Andre Dubus III). I recommended Selected Stories to our events and social media intern, Aaron, and I’m pretty sure it changed his life, therefore fulfilling my obligations as an intern manager.

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is one of downtown New York’s most vital cultural institutions, presenting an eclectic mix of events—from readings and concerts to comedy nights and storytelling competitions—featuring many of today’s most exciting artists. The bookstore is staffed almost entirely by volunteers and 100 percent of its profits go to Housing Works, Inc., which provides housing, healthcare, job training, and advocacy for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. As an independent cultural center, it offers patrons a unique opportunity to join the fight against AIDS and homelessness simply by buying or donating books; eating at our cafe; coming to concerts, readings, and special events; or volunteering on our staff.

Amanda Bullock, Director of Public Programming, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

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Naked Came the Leaf Peeper by Brian Lee Knopp, Linda Barrett Knopp

Naked Came the Leaf Peeper is a serial novel written by Brian Lee Knopp, John P. McAfee, Susan Reinhardt, Tony Earley, Gene Cheek, Wayne Caldwell, Fred Chappell, Vicki Lane, Tommy Hays, Alan Gratz, Linda Marie Barrett,and Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. A zany Southern Appalachian take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the novel begins with a murder by potato gun and ends with a shoot-out in downtown Asheville. As editor, I read the book countless times and still found myself laughing out loud at the same jokes because they were just that funny! Naked is a local effort sure to charm readers across the country.

Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe is an independent bookstore in downtown Asheville, NC. In 2000, Publishers Weekly awarded Emoke B’Racz their “Bookseller of the Year” award. Malaprop’s hosts author events, community events, bookclubs, children’s story hours, and knitting circles almost every night of the year! Malaprop’s sister store is Downtown Books & News, a newsstand and used bookstore celebrating 24 years of fine bookselling.

Linda Barrett Knopp, General Manager/Senior Buyer, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe

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Vacant Lot And Modular Chain-Link Fence Set by Gary Kachadourian

Local artist Gary Kachadourian has made a number of posters and booklets of seemingly mundane items found largely in urban areas over the years. On the surface, his projects seem like lo-fi photocopied photographs, but they are actually incredibly detailed, hand drawings that are hyper realistic. Vacant Lot is a 1/32nd scale, cut-n-fold paper set of a far too common image in the city—a fenced off, vacant lot, complete with a discarded shipping pallet. It’s an interactive work of art, in handmade, booklet form.

Atomic Books is Baltimore’s famous, weirdo, underground, alternative indie bookstore.
Literary Finds for Mutated Minds!

Benn Ray, Co-owner, Atomic Books

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Life on Earth by Chris Toll

I’ve chosen this inspiring book of poems by a visionary Baltimore writer for a variety of reasons. First, it being Christmas and about to be the beginning of a new year, Toll’s writing is always a hopeful blend of cosmic christianity crossed with pulp sci-fi fantasy calling for a revolutionary love to wipe out greed and war. And these are not sappy doe-eyed New Age preciousness dabblings, but writings carved from deep within the soul of a dedicated wordsmith, avid reader and engaged spiritual being, who also happened to have a great twisted sense of humor and the perverse. Chris Toll’s goal has always been Beyond, and sadly he is now Beyond—no longer with us, which is another reason why I choose this book. It’s the last testament of a true poet who dreamt of a better world and who is now hopefully living in one.

Normal’s Books & Records began in 1990, started by a group of nine artists, musicians and writers. We carry the obscure to the indispensable and are home to the experimental music venue The Red Room and Shattered Wig Press. Baltimore Magazine named us “a one stop cultural hub” and John Waters chose us as one of his ten favorite spots in Baltimore (along with a gay strip club behind a prison).

Rupert Wondolowski, Co-owner, Normal’s Books & Records

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