Today is International Buy Indie Day. Get out your wallets, and buy one book – paperback, hardcover, audiobook – at an independent bookstore near you. And while you’re at it, support another independent business, like the small coffee shop that isn’t part of a big chain of stores. I’ll be buying my joe at The Gorham Grind.
Here’s a brief list of recommendations from some of my recent reading. I’m open to suggesting other titles as well; feel free to ask.
If you’re looking for some really great fiction about music, check out the just released Please Step Back (Ben Greenman). I’m still reading it, and don’t usually recommend a book if I haven’t finished it, but I feel safe with this one. The writing is just great, and the story – young man in the 1960’s comes from nothing, makes himself into a funk/rock star – is probably our age’s modern mythology. It’s funny and interesting and wistful. If jazz is more your thing, I’ll again suggest you pick up a copy of Joseph Coulson’s Of Song and Water. Similar mythology, but also concerns manhood, father and son relationships, boat building, and racism. Coulson is a writer I wish more people knew about; if your bookstore doesn’t have a copy of this one, ask them to order it for you.
If you want something more focused on the funny, have a look a the recently reissued A Meaningful Life. First published in 1971. Main character Lowell Lake finishes college with the intention of becoming a writer, and ends up instead in a lousy job as a technical editor for a plumbing magazine. His wife’s a dud, and so is he, but he finds a possible shot at making something of himself. This isn’t the first line of the book, but it’s close, and for me it was the hook:
One morning not long after his thirtieth birthday, Lowell woke up with the sudden realization that his job was not temporary.
If you’re in the mood for something serious, have a look at Paul Harding’s book Tinkers. It’s got really beautiful writing, and the story – “An old man lies dying. As time collapses into memory, he travels deep into his past where he is reunited with his father and relives the wonder and pain of his impoverished New England Youth.” – will follow you around for weeks afterward. The opening, which has the old man in his sickbed as his house falls apart around him, is extraordinary. This book reminded me of Laird Hunt’s Indiana, Indiana – also an extraordinary book.
Mystery fans? Take a look at The Manual of Detection. Jebediah Berry turns the genre upside down and shakes it ’til it sings. The less you know about it before reading it, the better; here’s a brief summary:
In this tightly plotted yet mind- expanding debut novel, an unlikely detective, armed only with an umbrella and a singular handbook, must untangle a string of crimes committed in and through people’s dreams.
Read it now, before it is seized for a film adaptation. If there was ever a book that screamed for a Tim Burton adaptation with Johnny Depp, this is the one. … Then again, there’s also Britten and Brulightly, the debut graphic novel by Hannah Berry. I’m not a big one for graphic novels, generally – my appreciation largely begins and ends with the adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass – but this has a nice look to it, and the mystery falls in line nicely with City of Glass and The Manual of Detection.
Non-fiction: folks interested in the origins of H1N1 (“swine flu”) and what the future holds would do well to take a look at Paul Roberts’ The End of Food. If Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma were paintings, The End of Food would be a mural. A big one. With a lot of details. It’s exceptional reporting on the coming food crises that is only now starting to get a coverage in the press. Production, delivery, and the marketing of food that so many people just accept as truth all get looked at, both as problems and as solutions. Blurbs are shit, generally speaking, but as blurbs go, this one is spot-on: “For anyone concerned about the future of food, this is an indispensable book.” Who’s the blurber? Michael Pollan.
Additional good reads:
The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris (fiction)
Last Days and Fugue States by Brian Evenson (fiction)
When Skateboards Will Be Free by Said Sayrafiezadeh (fiction)
Some Things that Meant the World to Me by Joshua Mohr (fiction)
The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno (fiction)
The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America by Dr. Drew Pinsky (non-fiction)
Castle by J. Robert Lennon
Circulation by Tim Horvath
Best bet for finding the independent bookstore closest to you is using IndieBound’s great search page. They’ll give you all the info you need about the stores that are closest. If you don’t live near one of the stores, or can’t get away from your desk, I humbly suggest clicking here.
Briefly, why shopping at independent stores is a good thing:
When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:
- Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
- Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
- More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.
- Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
- Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.
- Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
- Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
- More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.