Broadway Books is a timeless Portland gem. It's revered by longtime customers, new customers and fellow booksellers alike for staying vibrant and relevant during a tumultuous time in the book industry. The Book Broads, as the co-owners call themselves on Twitter, are making moves that incorporate the wisdom of their bookselling experience with new technologies like social media. Every week the store is packed with in-store events; it's active on Twitter, Facebook and its own blog; and it's selling E-books and paper books online. Co-owners Roberta Dyer and Sally McPherson (Roberta co-founded the store in 1992) relate national campaigns to their store (see their answer to question four) and they work the reverse, too—for example, a store-saving effort of Roberta’s son started on Twitter and is now documented on YouTube.
We asked the Book Broads a few questions via email.
Portland is a city of neighborhoods, and I’m always curious about the intricacies of each one. From an outsider’s perspective, Broadway Books is in an interesting spot: on a major thoroughfare, but not one linked to a particular neighborhood. How does that affect your view of your community connections, your shoppers’ views? We straddle two great neighborhoods—Irvington and Sullivan’s Gulch—but we believe that residents of many Northeast neighborhoods consider us to be their local bookstore, partly because we're on a main thoroughfare. Since Portland is geographically divided into five sections (Southwest, Southeast, Northwest, Northeast, and North), and there are so few stores our size, some people consider that the store in their geographical division is “their” neighborhood store, even though they may live a fair distance from us. We share Northeast with two terrific children’s bookstores and a few smaller used bookstores.
On Twitter recently, @bookbroads (awesome Twitter handle, by the way) gushed about Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and one of your followers expressed hesitation that it really could be as good as she’d been hearing. You replied: “Sorry it has gotten so much hype because it is so quietly beautiful all on its own.” What is “too much” hype for a book? My [Roberta’s] comment about Chad Harbach’s book getting too much hype was perhaps misleading. I meant that when a book gets that much hype, often people expect it to be shocking, or revolutionary, or somehow huge in its scope or intent, and this book seems to me to be just the opposite of all of those things. It’s quiet. It’s ordinary, really, in its form and content. It doesn’t feel like a book that should be “hyped.” It should just be read and passed around and enjoyed for what it is: an insightful story about people stumbling and bumbling and making mistakes and redeeming themselves and finding their way in the world. It’s important and beautiful, but not in a flashy way.
Half a year after you wrote and posted it online, your “State of the Union at Broadway Books” (which could really be, in a lot of ways, “ . . . at indie Bookstores”) is still garnering major national attention, most recently with a profile in Bookselling This Week, which was then shared by Shelf Awareness. Were you expecting this reaction, and how do you follow up on that? We were surprised when Bookselling This Week called us, and we were happy to talk about something we did in April. We continue to be blessed with customers who consider it important to shop
locally, and we think that awareness is growing. When we celebrate our twentieth anniversary next April, we think that will likely be a good time for us to publish another State of the Union that will update our customers about the past year and also look ahead to the next twenty years.
You’ve mentioned being fans of the 3/50 Project. Will you talk about it? This is an organization that promotes the support of locally owned brick-and-mortar stores like ours. IndieCommerce links to them on their website, as do many independent retailers other than booksellers. The idea is so simple and easy to do: They ask that if you have a job, you spend $50 each month, and spread that money between three locally owned stores that you want to stay in business. If everyone who can afford this would do it, it would make such a difference.
I have to ask, since it just happened: How was the PNBA Tradeshow for you this year? Anything—book-biz talk, forthcoming titles, author personalities—surprising or particularly exciting? As always, we came away from the PNBA trade show with lots of great new ideas and information. The book that I’m [Sally] most excited about for this spring is Cheryl Strayed’s forthcoming memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is coming from Knopf in mid-March. The book is beautifully written and incredibly moving. We are so thrilled that Broadway Books will be serving as the nationwide source for personalized, signed copies of this book. We’re also huge fans of Olympia-based author Jim Lynch (The Highest Tide, Border Songs), whose new novel, Truth Like the Sun, will be out from Knopf in April.
What books are you excited about handselling right now? It's an especially impressive year for great books for the holidays (and all days) from local authors: Lidia Yuknavitch’s moving memoir, The Chronology of Water, continues to sell and sell, as does the new book for younger readers by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, Wildwood. (Colin’s sister Maile also has a wonderful new book for younger readers, The Apothecary.) Then there’s the new YA book from National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Patrick deWitt—Canadian born but living in Portland—is having a big year with his novel The Sisters Brothers, shortlisted for the Booker and the Giller and PNBA prizes and winner of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. We have new novels from Portland authors Chuck Palahniuk (Damned) and Diana Abu-Jaber (Birds of Paradise) and beautiful new graphic novels from Craig Thompson (Habibi) and Allen Say (Drawing from Memory). It always warms our hearts when we can handsell books by local authors.
Kristin Thiel is senior editor and director of community engagement at Indigo Editing & Publications. She also reviews books regularly, and sometimes she just flat-out lists her favorites. She'll be reading with Lidia Yuknavitch from Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience (Other Voices Books/Dzanc Books) at her neighborhood bookstore, St. Johns Booksellers, in North Portland, on November 19 at 7:30 p.m. She has volunteered at the PNBA tradeshow for five years, and this is her second interview with NWBookLovers.org.