Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Brief Encounters with independents

I attended a very interesting reading and editor discussion featuring my friend author Ben Fountain and his editor Lee Boudreaux at the most excellent McNally Robinson independent bookstore on Prince Street in Soho last evening. Founatin, who I first met in Port-au-Prince, Haiti back in the misty days of 2002, has just published a fantastic collection of short stories titled Brief Encounters with Che Guevara that takes his (not always so) innocents abroad characters to locales as diverse as Burma, Colombia, Sierra Leone as well as Haiti. To an audience that included the authors Laura Moser and Lauren Mechling, Founatin and Boudreaux discussed the difficulty in getting publishers to take a chance on serious fiction these days, particularly short stories, as well as the essential role independent bookstores still play in getting important books such as Fountain's off the ground.

I was reminded of how some of the pivotal cultural events of recent decades have been the result of a few dedicated people persevering with their vision against great odds. The Sex Pistols gig at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976, organized by Howard Devoto, who later went on to form The Buzzcoks, for instance, was attended by perhaps 40 people, but of those people in the audience were members of bands such as Joy Division and The Fall, who went on to play pivotal roles in the development of Britain's post-punk music. The Velvet Underground sold an infinitesimal amount of their-now classic first album in 1967 but, as the saying goes, it seemed as if every one of the people who bought that album went out and formed a band. The author Henry Miller could not even get his writing published until the Parisian imprint Obelisk Press took a chance in 1934 on Tropic of Cancer, though Miller had to wait nearly 30 years to see it published in his native United States.

One of the fringe benefits of the book tour I did around the United States last fall was the opporuntinuty to see a few independent bookstores operating around the U.S., stores that support work of writers such as Ben and myself operating outside the obviously commercial realm. Bookstores such as Paperbacks Plus in Dallas, Books and Books in Miami and Robin's Bookstore in Philadelphia all still have an important role to play in the growth and publishing of challenging literature in the United States and, as such, deserve our support. Buy independent!

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