#LitBeat: Bookworms Go for a Walk
By Greg Cwik
On Sunday, August 19th, I got to Lark Cafe in Flatbush maybe ten minutes before noon. Only one other person was there waiting for the Walk. I checked the Tumblr account again to make sure this was the place: it certainly was. I checked the time, to make sure I wasn’t too early/late: I certainly wasn’t. Right place, right time. But writers aren’t really known for their punctuality, so I got a coffee and kept the anxiety at bay. (The coffee, by the way, was excellent; other places I visited that day, none of which will be named here, were considerably less excellent.)
The walkers began to gather a little after noon, quite abruptly, as if materializing just around the corner en masse, and by ten-after the sidewalk in front of the cafe was replete with bookworms and bibliophiles. The walkers varied in age—from college students to grandparents— and occupation—booksellers, journalists, writers, editors. They wore t-shirts adorned with Moby Dick illustrations and carried tote bags sporting literary references. A handful of (thankfully obedient) dogs accompanied the group; by the time the walk reached its midway-point at the Brooklyn library two-and-a-half hours later, the exhausted pups were passed out on the steps, and everyone else was flocking to the food trucks for sustenance.
The Morley Walk was engendered by Dustin Kurtz, marketing manager for Melville House Publishing, to bring attention to Christopher Morley’s 1919 camp-classic The Haunted Bookshop, recently released by Melville House as part of their ongoing Art of the Novella series. The novella spends a robust amount of time discussing literature; it’s almost more literary criticism than fiction, a verbose profession of adulation for all things biblio. (“I love this guy,” Kurtz said a few times.) Conrad gets multiple shout-outs while the Tarzan books take a beating, and, in a bit of proto-Dave Eggers sass, Morley warns readers that all non-booksellers should skip selected sections because they’re boring (we read all of those parts).
The sky was dark and ominous most of the day, with sinister-looking clouds mottling the air and the threat of rain constantly looming. When the first few drops began to fall, umbrellas bloomed and everyone tucked their books under their jackets: “Don’t let the books get wet” was said quite a few times by quite a few people. But the rain held off, for the most part, and no books were ruined.
The nearly six-mile walk circumvented Prospect Park. It hit four bookstores, plus the library: the new Terrace Books, powerHouse on 8th, Unnameable Books and Greenlight Books. I got Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer for a buck at Terrace (I’m on a pretty tight budget). Walkers read aloud from The Haunted Bookshop while walking, which was sometimes difficult beside the obstreperous streets of Brooklyn but always amusing—the looks we got from confused passersby were beguiled and wonderful. Reading continued outside of each bookstore while walkers perused the many shelves inside. (Books were supplied by WORD Brooklyn, whose event coordinator, Jenn Northington, was the first reader.)
For me, a newbie to the independent bookselling/publishing world, the walk elucidated the entwinement of Brooklyn-based booksellers and publishers and writers and readers—the Lit community almost felt like its own weird little world. The real-life mingling of booksellers and publishers and writers recalled their Twitter interactions, with rewteets and 140-character conversations rendered corporeal. I could see how personally invested everyone was— how deeply embedded into the undulant community. Michael de Zayas, owner of the spatially tiny and often-packed coffee shop Little Zleda’s in Crown Heights, made a brief mention of his embryonic bookstore, Hullabaloo, before the Walk commenced. He said his Kickstarter project was ending at six, ending his comments with an ellipsis. While not the subtlest of pitches, Zayas’ announcement symbolized the symbiotic relationship between local writers and publishers and booksellers. He summarized what I was about to experience and we hadn’t even started to walk yet. These bookstores rely on booklovers—like the walkers, like myself—and events—like readings, like the Morley Walk— to exist.
(Photos by Wah-Ming Chang)
Did you hear about Graywolf Press’s All-American Sale and think, “Yeah, that’s nice, but I’d actually like to buy even more books for cheap.” Well, you’re in luck. Both Dzanc Books and Melville House are also offering Independence Day discounts. U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!!
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This is what gets lost in the hand-wringing over the mergers and rumors-of-mergers between America’s Big Six (or Big Five?) publishing houses: there are more than six publishers in this country. There are countless presses that continue, every year, to publish great work. They range from the large and very well-established — W.W. Norton and Grove/Atlantic — all the way down to the micro-presses.
Somewhere inbetween is Melville House, which for these past few years has been producing, alongside new offerings, a delightful line called The Neversink Library.