Visitation Longlisted for an Indie Booksellers Choice Award

Independent bookstores are so crucial. Where else can you actually enjoy the luxury of browsing through all the new books of the season, reading a page here, a paragraph there to discover which of all the latest offerings most appeal to you? Big chain bookstores tend to offer more the appearance of choice than actual choice, with the books on the front tables just inside the automatic glass doors selected according to marketing contracts, which obviously favor larger publishers and often exclude the smaller presses that tend to bring us the bulk of translated books published in any given year. There’s a big difference between a stack of three hundred copies of the latest Dan Brown bestseller and a table containing three copies each of one hundred different books. Market realities being what they are, small press books cannot survive without the small bookstores that regularly make them available to readers who are inclined to value smallness in both presses and shops. The sorts of books I love most will not be long for this world if the independent booksellers that promote them ever cease to exist. And yes, the multimedia giant Amazon.com is doing everything in its power to become our sole provider of books by offering ever bigger discounts and ever bigger convenience. It’s so much quicker and easier to order a book over the Internet than to make a trip to the store. But Amazon’s practices hurt publishers, especially smaller ones: they are able to offer their big discounts because they force publishers to sell their books to them at a lower price than the one other bookstores get (a tactic long used by major chain bookstores to corner the market). So buying smaller publishers’ books at the Amazon discount price helps these publishers far less than if you buy their books in a real, in-the-flesh bookstore. And if we don’t keep patronizing these smaller stores, they will soon cease to exist, leaving us with only the behemoths. Do you really want to be telling your kids someday about how it once was possible to browse the shelves in something called a “bookstore”? And I wouldn’t be too sure those great Amazon discounts will continue once the competition is gone. So do keep in mind, next time you find yourself about to click on the “add to cart” button, that you could be giving your business to a local bookstore instead, helping to keep it around. Provided, of course, that you live in a town where independent bookstores still survive. Here in New York City, we still have quite a few of them. The ones I most often find myself patronizing are Idlewild Books (which specializes in foreign and travel literature, sorted by continent and country), St. Marks Bookshop and the relative newcomer McNally Jackson – all three of them regularly stocked with an outstanding selection of contemporary literature and great for browsing. To find a independent bookstore near you, visit the IndieBound website, and note that most indies will put a book in the mail to you on request, just like Amazon.

In honor of independent bookstores, a new book award was recently established, the Indie Booksellers Choice Award. This is an award for the best book from an independent publisher published in 2010 as decided on by staff members at independent bookstores nationwide – only they are allowed to vote. This is truly a quirky and beautiful longlist, and it is a great honor for me to have my translation of Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation included on it. Voting will continue until April 30, when the shortlist will be announced, and then the finalist will be chosen in May. I’m curious to see which books from the list will prove most popular with the indie voters. I was delighted to see Barbara Comyn’s 1955 novel Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead on the list; it’s long been out of print, for which reason I’ve been clinging tightly to my ancient paperback copy, but now I see that a tiny publisher called Dorothy, A Publishing Project has reprinted the book. If you’ve never read Comyns, do have a look; I think she will amaze you.
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