Shelf Awareness is pleased to begin including reports from Anna Thorn, the veteran bookseller who as Bookstore Vagabond is currently touring indie bookstores across the country, interviewing owners, buyers, booksellers and customers about their experiences and successes. Read more about Bookstore Vagabond and indie bookstores in all their variety here.
A mouthwatering display of cookbooks arranged by regions of the world greets you as you walk into Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass. When I managed to pull myself away from the pages of Sababa, I looked up to find a large, welcoming space stretching back from lushly pyramided displays in the front to a "Kidsmith" area in back. Tall shelves break up the book floor, and a "Giftsmith" area is set off to one side; it's full of jewelry, pottery and other sidelines by makers from around the world. This international vibe is at the heart of Brookline Booksmith.
Despite its size, the store has no trouble feeling cozy with its sparkling lights, handpainted section signs and--the best strategy--shelves of books. Lisa Gozashti, co-owner of the bookstore, gave me a full tour and talked about its philosophy.
The store was founded in 1961, just outside of Boston, and you can feel how well-integrated it is with its community. Clearly Brookline Booksmith considers diversity in its selections in as many ways as possible, including global voices and books for all parts of the community. The displays are stocked with an intentional mix of well-known and under-appreciated titles, a strategy Lisa described as "elevating through curation."
Continuing with the theme of highlighting international literature, Brookline Booksmith has a spinner of books in French curated by Albertine's French Corners project. (If you haven't heard about this, it's definitely worth a look.) Lisa told me Brookline Booksmith is fortunate to have a strong, engaged staff with a variety of interests that adds depth to each section. "Support the people in what they're excited about," she said.
|The first Transnational event in March 2018: (l.-r.) Shuchi Saraswat, German author Jenny Erpenbeck and Lisa Gozashti.
One of the programs created by staff members that the store has supported is the amazing Transnational event series that bookseller Shuchi Saraswat began in March 2018. (The most recent, held last week, featured Karthika Naïr and Nina MacLaughlin.) Shuchi and bookseller Pierce Alquist bring together international authors to discuss migration, the refugee experience, and works in translation. For Shuchi, it's been meaningful to host such important conversations and to see the audience engage and connect with them. "Sometimes I think it's a freaking miracle that people are spending their evenings sitting and listening to international writers and translators," Shuchi admits. "It makes me trust that I'm doing something magical."
Her work this past year as one of five judges for the National Book Award for Translated Literature has affected how she considers what she likes. She says for her the first step is to decide, "is this book doing what it's trying to do and are they doing it in an interesting way?" After that you have to trust your taste--and in my judgment, Shuchi has excellent taste. Just take a look at the series' past lineup.
The store is dedicated to the series, despite the logistical difficulties the travel costs present. It's a way for Brookline Booksmith to demonstrate its dedication to international, diverse literature and marginalized voices. As Shuchi said, "How, as a large store, are you different from a Barnes & Noble?" The store is also fortunate to be in a neighborhood that both loves and supports the events.
|All the titles featured in the Transnational series.
I got more evidence that Lisa is a bookseller through and through when I asked one of my regular questions: what is your favorite book to handsell right now? She immediately darted to the shelves to pull not one but three titles for me--Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li, Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar and When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman. She told me about the events Brookline Booksmith had hosted with the authors and how meaningful it had been to hear immigrant and refugee stories at a time when we hear horror stories in the news every day.
Halfway through her descriptions, she thought of another title (The White Book by Han Kang), and another (Bluets by Maggie Nelson), and another (On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong). Her eyes lit up talking about the store's event with Ocean Vuong. Then, "Oh, wait, these will just round out the group so well!" She exclaimed and ran off to grab Border by Kapka Kassabova and Nine Continents by Xiaolu Guo. At last, she was satisfied and left me with a selection that perfectly encapsulated the international and inclusive values of this exceptional bookstore. I ambled through the shelves with a hefty stack of books looking for the perfect background and smiling to myself.