by Andrew DeCanniere
It may be hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again — Independent Bookstore Day is almost here (this Saturday!). This year I had the opportunity to ask a few of my favorite authors about some of their favorite books and independent bookstores. It should also be said that just as this list represents some of their own favorite books and independent bookstores, this list is a representation of some of my favorite books and authors as well. So, once you’ve perused the list of each of their recommendations, take a moment to find out more about each of the books that the authors featured here have written themselves by clicking on the links below each of their names, leading to interviews about their own work.
MOLLY ANTOPOL (photo by Debbi Cooper)
All Aunt Hagar’s Children
by Edward P. Jones
Every one of these stories blows me away: Jones writes with precision, heart, and such a deep sense of history and politics. I must have read this book a dozen times, trying to figure out how he managed to give every one of these stories the heft and scope of a novel.
Going to Meet the Man
by James Baldwin
It was only when I first read Baldwin that I saw how emotionally direct stories can be without seeming sappy. It’s as if every one of his stories is something Baldwin felt he needed to write, that he was more interested in being honest than wowing the reader with his cleverness.
Transactions in a Foreign Country
by Deborah Eisenberg
I once bonded with someone over our love for Eisenberg, and he articulated perfectly what I admire most in her writing: it’s as if, in each story, she takes us on a tour of a house, showing us every room, every photo on the walls, every item in the drawers — only for us to discover all along, there’s been a secret attic no one new about.
Second Person Singular
by Sayed Kashua
Kashua writes movingly and hilariously about the intersecting lives of two Arab-Israeli men, a social worker and a wildly ambitious criminal lawyer. A truly beautiful and heartbreaking book.
Vaquita and Other Stories
by Edith Pearlman
I imagine many of us can remember exactly where we were when we encountered a favorite book. I had just graduated college and was living in Jerusalem when I came upon Edith Perlman’s stories, and I immediately fell in love with her characters: passionate and courageous, self-aware and sometimes solitary. The stories bring us into the lives of people in settings as disparate as Jerusalem, Boston and Central America.
Ours: A Russian Family
by Sergei Dovlatov
A dissident back in Russia who immigrated to New York before the fall of communism, Dovlatov’s stories are filled with warmth, intimacy, wit and enormous compassion.
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
by Grace Paley
What I love about Paley is that she writes such voice-driven stories while still giving us a sense of the larger events happening around her characters. The politics of her fiction extends so naturally from her characters that I never feel she’s spoon-feeding me any opinions.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
by Alice Munro
It’s hard to choose just one Munro collection — every one of her books has been hugely influential to me. I love Munro for her brilliant psychological acuity, emotional generosity, and deceptively simple sentences that are gorgeous but never showy.
The Anastasia Krupnick series
by Lois Lowry
These were my favorite books when I was little. I used to pretend that Anastasia had a sister named Molly who she did everything with. I imagined that I, too, had a tower bedroom, a younger brother to harass, a pipe-smoking poet father who watched Nova every night. I recently reread the series, wondering if my niece would be old enough to appreciate them, and I found them just as wonderful as I had as a kid.
The Puttermesser Papers
by Cynthia Ozick
Ruth Puttermesser is probably my favorite character of all time: complex and nuanced and lovingly rendered, compassionate and witty, self-deprecating and self-aware
Molly Antopol’s debut story collection, The UnAmericans, won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award and the French-American Prize and was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. The book was nominated for the National Book Award and was a finalist the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, the National Jewish Book Award and the California Book Award, among others. The book appeared on over a dozen “Best of 2014” lists and will be published in seven countries. Her short fiction has been published widely and won a 2015 O. Henry Prize. She teaches at Stanford University and is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, where she’s at work on a new book.
126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY & 123 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ or wordbookstores.com
Word was my local bookstore when I lived in Greenpoint years ago. Now I live much further away, but I still take the trip to the Greenpoint and Jersey City locations. This is a special bookstore with the loveliest staff.
The Golden Notebook
29 Tinker Street, Woodstock, NY or
The Golden Notebook is a tiny gem in the Catskills. The small store boasts a remarkably well-curated selection of books — especially about Woodstock (the festival and the place). This store is the highlight of my trips upstate.
37 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY or
Powerhouse is a large, open bookstore with a staggering amount of specialty and art books. I make the trek here when I’m looking for a gift. Powerhouse hosted my book launch so it holds an extra special place in my heart.
163 Court St., Brooklyn, NY or www.bookcourt.com
This sprawling bookstore has a large back room devoted to live events. It’s my favorite place to catch an author speak.
Books I’ve read in 2016 so far…
Being Nixon: A Man Divided
by Evan Thomas
I’m not super into presidential biographies, but this one focused on the psychology of President Nixon — a compelling portrait of a complex and often misunderstood man.
On Immunity: An Inoculation
by Eula Biss
I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while. I started it a few months ago and once I dove in, I couldn’t stop reading. Biss provides an erudite and well-researched discussion of a controversial topic that is never condescending.
The Gene: An Intimate History
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
“Gene,” out in May, is the follow-up to Mukherjee’s first book, the remarkable “Emperor of All Maladies.” Like “Emperor,” it’s wide in scope — “Gene” traces the history of genetics from Darwin through today — and is just as impressive.
Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories
by Stephen King
My favorite parts of this short story collection are the insights into the writing process that King provides at the beginning of each story. Read this along with my favorite writing book of all time, his “On Writing” and you have a master class in writing.
Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry
by Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD with Ogi Ogas
This is a fair and balanced perspective on the history of psychiatry by an expert in the field. Highly recommend for those interested in the topic.
The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson
by Jeffrey Toobin
I picked up this book halfway through the FX series of the same name — and the book even surpasses the intoxicating series. Toobin is a master of narrative journalism and he provides a fresh perspective on the most covered trial in history — no small feat.
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir
by Ruth Wariner
This memoir had me at its opening line: “I am my mother’s fourth child and my father’s thirty-ninth.” It’s emotional, disturbing, and, most importantly, well written.
Loner: A Novel
by Teddy Wayne
This one is not out until September, but as a fan of Wayne, when I received an advance copy I read it in a frenzy. This book will mess with your head — and you won’t be able to put it down.
St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street
by Ada Calhoun
Had the pleasure of watching Ada Calhoun speak at The Golden Notebook (one of my favorite bookstores) and after just had to read her expertly researched book. I enjoyed every page of this rollicking history of New York.
by J.R. Salamanca
This is an oldie but mostly goodie. “Lilith” is a novel that is loosely based on Chestnut Lodge, a private psychiatric hospital that I’m researching for my next book.
Susannah Cahalan is the author of the New York Times bestseller Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (soon to be a motion picture), and writes about books for the New York Post. She is currently at work on her second book. You can find out more about Susannah and Brain on Fire by logging on to her website at www.susannahcahalan.com.
Author of &
3185 Edgemont Boulevard, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
This is the last-standing independent bookstore on the entire North Shore of Vancouver, and is run passionately by owner Deb McVittie and her staff. The tidy, small store works so well because they know their customers interests really well and are extremely supportive of local authors.
Galiano Island Books
76 Madrona Dr., Galiano Island, British Columbia, Canada
This bookstore is so good, an entire literary festival has spun out from it. Run by voracious readers for like-minded customers, every book on the shelf is handpicked. This store should be both your first and last stop on the island, since it’s your first left turn right off the ferry.
Librairie Drawn and Quarterly
211 Rue Bernard O, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
A spin-off of the Drawn and Quarterly publishing house, this English-language bookstore in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal is a beautiful place to visit, shop and discover new books. They specialize in graphic novels, but there’s also an excellent selection of hand-picked new fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. There’s also a stage for author events and music performances.
409 9th Ave N., Golden, British Columbia, Canada
Located on the shores of the Kicking Horse River in the Rocky Mountains, this bookstore is a carefully curated delight to visit on any road trip. They have a fine selection of new, used, and plenty of outdoor adventure books, and an upstairs cafe and backyard patio within feet of the river. I finally found Chester Brown’s “Louis Riel” here!
1200 11th Street, Bellingham, Washington
This sprawling space in Bellingham’s quaint Fairhaven neighborhood feels like almost more of a literary community center than a bookstore. Besides a huge selection of books, they also offer a consistently full calendar of events, reading groups, writers’ workshops and classes. Truly a reading and writing utopia!
Never Cry Wolf
by Farley Mowat
An exciting and funny adventure memoir set in Canada’s barren far north that was way ahead of its time in environmental, ecological, and humanitarian storytelling. Decades after it was first published in 1963, the same issues (misguided wolf culls) still exist in Canada.
Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun
This is possibly the best book in the best graphic novel adventure series of all time! Of the dozens of Tintin books, this one, drawn, written and published in the late 1940s, is possibly Tintin and Herge at their most detailed, daring and adventurous best. Set high in the Andes mountains of South America, this book is worth it alone for the ingenious twist that saves Tintin and his friends from being burned at the stake by the Incas.
The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across The South Seas
by Thor Heyerdahl
Another brilliant memoir chronicling a team of Norway adventurers setting sail on a balsa wood raft, aiming to prove that the South Sea Islands were settled by the indigenous people of South America, by simply following the sun and currents across the largest ocean in the world. An incredible story!
by Joseph Boyden
By far the greatest Canadian novel I’ve ever read, “The Orenda” chronicles three colliding characters in the late 1600s in early Canada: a mighty Huron warrior, a young, female Iroquois prisoner, and a French priest attempting to convert the First Nations to Catholicism. It’s an epic story of blood, guts, and the early seeds of what would become Canada.
by Michael Punke
A truly gripping and authentic frontier adventure story that is much more layered, detailed and satisfying than the film (not a big surprise) and also follows a very different narrative after the major inciting incident of the grizzly bear attack (not a spoiler, it’s depicted on the cover and in every ad for the movie ever). The author now works for the Obama administration and is not allowed to promote his book!
Grant Lawrence is the author of Adventures in Solitude and The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. He also has hosted the top-rated CBC Radio 3 Podcast with Grant Lawrence, a monthly showcase of Canadian independent music, and is the host of CBC Radio 3’s popular web radio station, also airing on Sirius XM 162. He can be heard throughout the week on various CBC Radio One programs such as DNTO, North by Northwest, All Points West, RadioWest, On The Coast, and various afternoon programs across the country, and has been a frequent past contributor to Q, Spark, and Sounds Like Canada. In the summer of 2012, Grant hosted The Wild Side on CBC Radio One, and in 2014, he won a Canadian Screen Award for his onscreen work with CBC Music presents: the Beetle Roadtrip Sessions.
Grant is married to Canadian singer Jill Barber and they live together with their son, Joshua, and daughter, Grace, in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
REBECCA MAKKAI (photo by Philippe Matsas)
Author of &
The Book Cellar
4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL or www.bookcellarinc.com
This is one of those bookstores I could live in. A wine/coffee/snack bar on one side so you can sit and write; comfy chairs by the windows; fabulous staff picks cards on impossibly tall, labyrinthine shelves; and a strict Vonnegut-lives-behind-the-cash-register-only policy. They throw some of the best book launches, too, complete with cake.
Women and Children First
5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL or www.womenandchildrenfirst.com
A storied feminist bookstore in my favorite neighborhood of the city. If you want to feel, viscerally, how integral a bookstore can be to a neighborhood, spend a Saturday afternoon here.
4869 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT or www.northshire.com
I'm pretty sure I fell asleep and dreamed this place up. It's like a castle of books, with more rooms than you'd ever imagine possible. A pilgrimage bookstore, if ever there was one.
4701 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS or www.watermarkbooks.com
I've encountered some amazing hospitality on tour, but this place might take the crown for event organization and bringing in an enthusiastic crowd in a city where I knew literally one person. Their basement is signed by every writer who ever read there--quite a collection.
R.J. Julia Booksellers
768 Boston Post Road, Madison, CT or www.rjjulia.com
One of the most physically beautiful bookshops you'll ever see. If you were going to get locked into a bookstore overnight (poor you), I'm not sure you could do any better.
Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the short story collection Music for Wartime, which appeared in 2015, and of the novels The Hundred-Year House, winner of the Chicago Writers Association’s Novel of the Year award, and The Borrower, a Booklist Top Ten Debut which has been translated into eight languages. Her short fiction was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper’s, Tin House, and New England Review. The recipient of a 2014 NEA fellowship, Makkai has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Tin House, and Northwestern University.
TAYLOR JENKINS REID (photo by Elly Schaefer)
279 Great Road, Acton, MA or
Willow Books is my hometown bookstore in Acton, Massachusetts. I love it so much I used it as the setting of my upcoming fourth novel, “One True Loves.” With a welcoming staff and the scent of pages the moment you walk in, Willow Books has long been one of my favorite places to visit when I’m home.
695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA or
Vroman’s has the biggest selection and most incredible display of any independent bookstore in Southern California. It’s two floors featuring an amazing event space with an informed sales team and a great atmosphere.
8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA or
Book Soup is somehow both literary and rock n’ roll, right on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Sometimes I wonder if I’m even cool enough to shop there.
The Last Bookstore
453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA or
The Last Bookstore, in Downtown LA, is your best bet for stumbling across a great book you’ve never heard of. It’s also a very cool place to hang out. Every section of this store is Instagram-worthy.
1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA or
Skylight Books on the East Side of Los Angeles, has a tree growing in the middle of the store! All your hopes about finding a great book in an adorable bookstore and your fantasies about reading under a gorgeous tree come true in one place.
All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps
by Dave Isay
A book that you can reread a million times and still never want to put down. True love stories from couples of all ages and backgrounds from all over the country, told in their own words. It doesn’t get any more romantic than that.
Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Can be read in a day but keep you thinking for weeks. I found myself having to stop and bookmark page after page. So many of the sentences, while succinct and seemingly effortless, ring so beautifully true.
The Lover’s Dictionary
by David Levithan
Another page turner with sparse pages that you can read in one sitting. The words David Levithan chooses to define and the way he chooses to define them somehow build into a heartbreaking and incredibly moving story. Simply brilliant.
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Simply cannot be topped. I’m bummed I never read it as a kid and yet I think I wouldn’t have truly understood the depth of it until I was an adult anyway. Everyone should own a copy and turn to it when their soul hurts. It is the very best medicine there is.
The Most of Nora Ephron
by Nora Ephron
This book will make you fall in love with Nora Ephron all over again. She was the very definition of an original and I feel lucky to have been born in a time when I could read everything she published.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author, essayist, and TV writer from Acton, Massachusetts. Her debut novel, Forver, Interrupted, has been optioned with Dakota Johnson attached to star. She is adapting her second book, After I Do, for Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family. Her most recent novel, Maybe In Another Life, has been featured in People, US Weekly, Cosmo, and more. One True Loves will be released in June.
In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, xoJane, and a number of other blogs.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.
Closed — Formerly located at 1103 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA
In LA, my all-time favorite bookstore was Equator Books on Abbot Kinney in Venice, but sadly it closed during the recession.
1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles CA or
Skylight Books in Los Feliz will always have a special place in my heart because it’s where I did my first BOX GIRL reading. We packed the place and it sold out of copies.
The Last Bookstore
453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA or
The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA is especially awesome and how great is the name?
City Lit Books
2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, IL or
In Chicago, City Lit Books in Logan Square is wonderful, with a solid reading series.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
Early in life, it was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I haven’t read this book in so long I wonder if it would have the same impact on me now but wow, did it ever when I read it for the first time. It sort of busted wide open the whole concept of memoir for me. What you were allowed to do, what you weren’t, and that they’re actually aren’t really any rules.
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole
Another early favorite. One of the funniest books of all time, and also one of the saddest.
Varieties of Disturbances
by Lydia Davis
Discovering Lydia Davis was also a revelation. Davis’ stories — typically no longer than four pages and sometimes as short as a sentence — are not weighed down by adjectives or descriptions of the weather. They are, for the most part, devoid of descriptors of any kind. Is it fiction? Does it matter?
On Writing Well
by William Zinsser
This book was taught in my college journalism school and I try to re-read at least parts of it every time I’m working on something new, especially the chapter “Bits & Pieces.” Zinsser is all about writing that is lean and efficient. He says something like “Adjectives are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don’t stop to think that the concept is already in the noun.” I’ve always loved that.
by Evan S. Connell
Speaking of efficiency, Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell. Man, does this book of short paragraphs, about a housewife in 1950s Kansas City, pack a punch.
As for other works of fiction, I love the old Southern Gothic writers, Flannery O’Connor, etc., but I especially love Carson McCullers. Her Collected Stories are phenomenal and especially the novella — do people still call them that? — The Member of The Wedding.
by David Sedaris
No one does self-deprecating humor better than Sedaris, and though I’ve read them all, I think this is his best book.
Without Feathers & The Insanity Defense
by Woody Allen
One of the funniest writers ever. Without Feathers and The Insanity Defense are ridiculous and hilarious.
The Boys of My Youth
by Jo Ann Beard
My favorite genre is narrative non-fiction/memoir and The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard is at the top of that list for me. The Chapter, “The Fourth State of Matter” is one of the best essays I have ever read.
The Liar’s Club
by Mary Karr
Karr is a poet, first, and that it evident in her gorgeously connected sentences. She is also funny as hell, and manages to find the humor in some of the most tragic situations.
Slouching Toward Bethlehem
by Joan Didion
It’s almost cliché to say you love this book — so does every other 20-something girl. Well I am no longer 20-something and I still do. I read the essay “Goodbye To All That” when I was 27 and it had a profound impact on me.
by Anne Lamott
It is such a beautiful book about being a new mom. It took me six months to read it after my son was born but I laughed and cried through every page, totally sleep deprived. It is hilarious, and honest, and so incredibly touching. If you are a new parent, read this book!
Lilibet Snellings was born in Georgia and raised in Connecticut. She earned her MFA from the University of Southern California and currently resides in Chicago. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, Anthem, Flaunt, and This Recording, among other publications. For additional information about her book, Box Girl: My Part-Time Job as an Art Installation (Soft Skull Press, 2014) and event information, please visit www.lilibetsnellings.com.
Independent Bookstore Day takes place on Saturday, April 30, 2016. To learn more about Independent Bookstore Day, or to locate the independent bookstore in your area, consult the Independent Bookstore Day at .
This article originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine.