Independent bookstores foster community

A student embraces the publishing of her upcoming chapbook and highlights the charm of independent bookstores.


By the end of this semester, I will have published a short collection of poetry, known as a chapbook, exploring themes of femininity, healing and astrology.

The process has taught me about the community’s role in bringing a book into the world. I’ve spent time editing my manuscript with other poets and made visits to my former art teacher to use her supplies.

This sort of teamwork is standard for bookmaking. In the 1960s and ’70s during a period known as the Mimeograph Revolution, many poets relied on collaboration to self-publish their work, using the new copy production machine.

This included working with independent booksellers who’d carry their books, host readings and offer supportive networks for unique writers and their readers.

Even though a lot has changed since this self-publishing movement, community has always been important to authors, and it should remain important to readers too. But technology challenges these communal aspects.

The rewards of buying from a bookseller in-person — like browsing around the store for hours and exchanging book recommendations with strangers — are lost in online purchases.

A few weeks ago, I went to an independent bookstore called Inkwood Books with this in mind. I needed a new journal, but rather than getting it on Amazon, I decided I would buy it from somewhere local. I wanted to be in a space with people who admire books as much as I do.

Inkwood Books is located in Haddonfield, New Jersey — not far from my hometown of Collingswood. The store isn’t big, but it’s cozy and welcoming. The shelves are packed with a rainbow of book spines, a diverse collection of hardcovers and paperbacks that extends from the hardwood floor almost to the ceiling.

I quickly found a journal I liked at Inkwood — one with a cork cover and flecks of gold underneath — then thumbed through the poetry section. A portion of the poetry shelf was dedicated to local poets like Rocky Wilson, author of “The Last Bus to Camden.” Wilson, greatly influenced by Camden-native Walt Whitman, offers his perspective of life in the region in this collection.

It’s rare to see bookstores like Barnes & Noble spotlighting local writers, so the local poetry section at Inkwood was special to me.

I ended up choosing “Works and Days,” a collection of nature poetry by Bernadette Mayer. I also picked up “Envelope Poems,” edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin. It’s a collection of poetry by Emily Dickinson that includes photos of handwritten drafts scrawled on envelopes by Dickinson herself.

I enjoy this collection for the way it presents rough drafts and scraps as significant and meaningful.

“Envelope Poems” is another book I would never find at Barnes & Noble, nor has it ever appeared on the automatic recommendation lists Amazon always sends me. I was thrilled to find it at Inkwood.

As I was checking out at the register, I shared my excitement with the cashier and asked if she had heard of “Silk Poems,” another project by Jen Bervin.

“I haven’t! What’s it about?” she asked, grabbing a pen and paper to write the title down. She seemed genuinely invested in supporting customers and finding books that match their interests.

She also voiced gratitude about how the local community is so invested in poetry and told me about the open mics Inkwood hosts.

As 7 p.m. grew closer, I was one of the last people to leave the shop. But I didn’t feel pressured to hurry up like I do while I’m shopping at other places, where voices boom over loudspeakers to remind customers it’s time to leave.

Instead, the cashier had joined me at the front of the store to show me the shelf full of books recently selected by the Inkwood staff as favorites. I appreciated how intimate and personal the shopping experience was.

“We have a book club too,” the cashier said enthusiastically. “One Wednesday a month people come in to discuss a book. There’s wine, snacks and people of all ages that come. It’s great!”

Events like book clubs and open mics are part of the reason why I love indie bookstores. Even though reading is a solitary experience, stores like Inkwood give readers an opportunity to share book culture.

Community is a vital component of bookmaking, but it doesn’t lose importance once a book hits the shelves. It takes a community to help books reach an audience. It takes a community to give books the pulse that keeps them alive.

As a writer and reader, I feel proud to support small businesses like Inkwood that are not just willing, but passionate and excited to do this wonderful, valuable community work.

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