In Praise of the Indie Bookseller


Poets & Writers has a new series, Inside Indie Bookstores, by Jeremiah Chamberlin, associate editor of Fiction Writers Review.

Each month, according to Chamberlin, the series will feature an interview with a bookseller, one of many “entrepreneurs who represent the last link in the chain that connects writers with their intended audience.” This month, the spotlight’s on Richard Howorth of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. In support of the series, until January 15, 2010, Poets & Writers offers a special discounted rate on subscriptions: $12.

Chamberlin developed his interest in indie bookstores in a post-college stint at Canterbury Booksellers in Madison, Wisconsin. Perhaps his interest in their posterity was initiated with the closing of Canterbury’s doors in 2004. This was not a stand-alone incident. Chamberlin noted in a recent conversation that the last fifteen years have seen the demise of approximately 70% of all independent bookstores:

So how have we allowed these important cultural institutions to decline? There have been many reasons, most of them economic. First, there was the rise of chain stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, which wooed customers (albeit briefly—no longer) with enormous discounts. Next, came Amazon and the convenience of online bookselling. Now even big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are selling books. Worse, some places like Wal-Mart are using books as loss leaders, selling them below cost, which makes it impossible for independent bookstores to compete. Couple this with an economic collapse—to say nothing of evidence that Americans are perhaps reading less these days—and the challenge for independent bookstores to keep their doors open is a daunting one.

With the aim of extolling the merits of the independent bookstore and the significant role it plays both in the lives of writers and readers and the communities that sustain it, Chamberlin has set out to document the people behind these landmark institutions. In his first installment, “Inside Indie Bookstores: Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi” in the January issue of Poets & Writers, Chamberlin interviews bookseller Richard Howorth, who as a child was continually chased off the Faulkner estate.

If you’ve let your subscription to Poets & Writers run out, don’t let this deal run you by.


Painting of Square Books by Lorrie Drennan.

Rozalia Jovanovic is a founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is The Rumpus New York Editor. More from this author →