Forget eating local. Read local with independent publishers, bookstores

Shipwrecked News, Books & Café in Coxsackie is close to the real shipwreck of the Storm King, which sank in the Hudson River in the early 20th century. I’m sitting in the small bookstore cafe while I write this in an antique chair.

There is an excellent cafe and a collection of new and used books. People come in and out because it’s Bagel Saturday. Discussions range from cats, river rats, and the upcoming author event that night. It’s hard not to hear in such a small place, but it’s white noise for my job, and I like the vibe. Everyone seems to know each other here on Reed Street. And when one of the customers takes his little dog out of a transport cage, everyone is ecstatic.

I’ve already pulled a few books off the shelves that I plan to buy because I want third places — community hubs where people can connect — to succeed. One of the books is from the New York Review of Books, an independent publisher. “In the Eye of the Wild” is a true story about a woman who survives a bear attack and survives. NYRB often introduces me to international books. Written by Nastassja Martin, the book is translated from English to French by Sophie Lewis. The story is compelling: “My thoughts go to the bear, then to myself, making connections, analyzing and dissecting, shaping a survivor’s castles in the air.”

We think about where our food comes from and we’re encouraged to buy and support local produce, but – and I’m guessing here – most people don’t choose books based on publishers. When you start shopping for the holidays or shopping for yourself, think about the publisher of the book. Independent publishers and bookstores deserve your love. They take risks with new writers, their book covers are often sharper, and they resurrect certain writers for a new generation.

I started thinking more about independents following the antitrust case involving a possible merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. A federal judge blocked the merger on Monday. “Today’s decision protects vital competition for books and is a victory for authors, readers and the free exchange of ideas,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. Justice in a press release. “The proposed merger would have reduced competition, decreased author compensation, diminished the breadth, depth and diversity of our stories and ideas, and ultimately impoverished our democracy.”

I couldn’t help but encourage an independent. Seven Stories Press is the publisher of Annie Ernaux, who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Seven Stories, which has just 16 employees, tweeted a simple “Oh my god” when they learned of Ernaux’s win. (Indies are more fun on social media, too.) Soon, many tweets recommending which Ernaux to read first, how to buy Ernaux products, and how to see her at events in New York. They also reissue beautifully crafted Octavia Butler books that are worth picking up for the holidays.

Melville House Books is an independent publishing house that I have followed since its inception. The company prides itself on republishing forgotten international writers and taking chances with newbie writers. The last in-person meeting I had pre-COVID was in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood and I stumbled upon the bookstore at Melville House and spent time browsing through their series, which publishes the latest interviews of some of the world’s most exceptional writers and thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Kurt Vonnegut, Lou Reed, James Baldwin and Nora Ephron. One of my favorite books, “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell, was published by Melville House, and it’s the perfect book for our times.

Other independent books worth buying for someone:

  • “Dirtbag, Massachusetts” (Bloomsbury) by Isaac Fitzgerald, a memoir in essays. “Even before I learned to read, I learned to respect books as a second religion.”
  • “Black Artists Shaping the World” (Thames and Hudson) by Sharna Jackson is aimed at young readers and features 26 artists from Africa and the African Diaspora.
  • “Ducks, Newburyport” (Biblioasis) by Lucy Ellmann. To be honest, after finishing “Ulysses” earlier this year, I preferred “Ducks.” The Booker Prize people liked it too. It’s nearly 1,000 pages of monologue and basically a few sentences.
  • “The Easy Life” (Bloomsbury), a novel by Marguerite Duras, is the first English translation (by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan) of a story about a young woman going through an existential crisis.

Also remember to order via bookshop.org. There you can select local bookstores that will benefit from your purchases.

Now I’m going for a walk along the Coxsackie waterfront park to see the wreckage.