The sound is like a heavy book being dropped onto a rug—a thud, then silence—as one by one the bookstores have closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The messages echo each other: this is a hard decision, for the safety and health of our customers, and so on. Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, Newtonville Books, Papercuts JP, Porter Square Books, have all shuttered through the end of March at least, and possibly longer. Further afield, An Unlikely Story in Plainsville, Book Moon in Easthampton, Belmont Books, Wellesley Books, Riffraff in Providence, and many other places, have all closed their doors.
But that doesn’t mean customers can’t buy books. They can, and should. The stores are encouraging people to place phone and online orders, especially for gift certificates, and many places are now offering free shipping. “We thought this would be a great gesture for people,” said Peter Win, co-owner of the Brookline Booksmith, “to encourage people to stay at home, but also support their independent bookstores.”
Bookstores are also offering curbside pick-up: place an order online or on the phone, swing by the store, and a bookseller will run the book out to you. “Calling us or placing orders online, this is the simplest, safest thing for all involved,” said Win. “This is a new experience for everybody."
Kerri K. Greenidge, director of the American Studies Program at Tufts, where she’s a lecturer at the university’s Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, has won the Mark Lynton History Prize, one of the Lukas Prizes, awarded by the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. She won the $10k prize for her book “Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter” (Liveright), which the judges describe as “the most complete biography yet of one of the most interesting African American intellectual leaders of the early 20th century” bringing to life “this deeply complex man and the world of black New England from which he emerged.”
In response to local, state, and national recommendations and guidelines, many stores and organizations, as well as publishers and individual authors are cancelling festivals, readings, and book events.
Porter Square Books, Harvard Book Store, and Brookline Booksmith have all cancelled readings through the end of the month and into April. “What seemed best changed in a flash,” said Harvard Book Store’s Meriwether of making the decision to cancel March readings and events.
Grub Street announced that the annual Muse & the Marketplace conference, a 3-day gathering with over 130 panels and craft sessions, with over 800 writers, editors, presenters, participants, and volunteers in attendance, is cancelled. Viet Thanh Nguyen was scheduled to be this year’s keynote speaker. Grub Street has also moved its classes online.
826 Boston’s Eat Your Words event scheduled for March 30 will be rescheduled for the fall.
The Newburyport Book Festival, scheduled for the weekend of April 24, has been cancelled.
Anne Carson reading at the Harvard Divinity School on April 1 will be rescheduled for the fall.
Other bookstores are figuring out alternative ways to hold readings. Twenty Stories in Providence, for example, has held readings as “virtual events” using Instagram Live.
“We’re thinking through all the different directions this could go,” said Meriwether, “and putting plans in place for things we hope it doesn’t come to.”
Picks of the Week
Three local booksellers recommend books for information, solace, distraction, and entertainment.
Bradley Trumpfheller at Brookline Booksmith recommends “The Passion According to G.H.” by Clarice Lispector (New Directions): “A novel set entirely within an apartment may seem a bit on-the-nose for those of us in varying degrees of quarantine, but this short, fantastical book by one of my favorite writers is a gorgeous exploration of the vast strangeness and wonder that can be found even in our solitude.”
Read Davidson at Harvard Square Books recommends “Docile” by K.M. Szpara (Tor): “Docile is a story about sex, power, and love. It’s also the kind of book that pulls you in fast and holds you tight. The perfect combination of deconstructive literature and escapism.”
Josh Cook at Porter Square Books recommends “I Hotel” by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House): “Yamashita’s innovative, sprawling novel tells the story of the social and political turbulence of San Francisco in the 1960s in a way that respects the anger and conflict that drove so much change, while centering hope and community as the real heroes of the book.”