kccu

Sherman Alexie Wants You To Be A 'Superhero' For Indie Bookstores

Nov 30, 2013
Originally published on December 5, 2013 3:18 pm

Back in September, poet and novelist Sherman Alexie wrote an open letter to a group of people whom he called the "gorgeous book nerds" of the world, asking them to become "superheroes" for independent bookstores.

More than 1,000 authors answered his call, which means signing on to work at local indie bookstores today, Small Business Saturday, as part of the Indies First campaign. Alexie tells NPR's Scott Simon that he'll be doing a marathon of five stores, helping to sell some of his favorite books. Has Alexie sold books before? "No," he laughs, "although when you're a writer in this era, certainly you are pretty much a salesperson."


Interview Highlights

On the importance of independent bookstores

My career happened because the booksellers at independent bookstores hand-sold my book. Readers and potential buyers would come into their stores, they would pick up my books of poems, my books of short stories — published by micropresses — and put it in their hands. And that's the kind of relationship that exists between independent booksellers and their customers, and authors have a chance there that they wouldn't otherwise have a chance in this giant Internet world where it's impossible to get noticed.

On recommending his own books today

That's not primarily why I'm there — and I'm also working in Seattle, my hometown, where I live, so certainly most of the people who show up are probably already going to have copies of my books. I'm going to be doing what a bookseller does — they're going to walk in and ... I'm going to ask them, what kind of book are you looking for? And they're going to say, "Well, I loved this book of stories by Lorrie Moore," and I'm going to say, "Well, why don't you check out Natalie Serber's Shout Her Lovely Name? I think you'd really enjoy that."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Back in September, Sherman Alexie, the poet and novelist, wrote an open letter to a group of people he called the gorgeous book nerds of the world, and he asked them to become superheroes for independent bookstores. More than 1,000 authors answered his call, which means signing on to work today at local indie bookstores on Small Business Saturday.

Sherman Alexie joins us from member station KUOW in Seattle. Thanks very much for being with us.

SHERMAN ALEXIE: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: So you're going to be spending the day several places, I gather?

ALEXIE: I'm doing a marathon, five stores today, in about 12 hours. Elliott Bay Book Company, University Bookstore, Queen Anne Book Company, Secret Garden Bookshop, and Third Place Books.

SIMON: Have you ever sold books before?

ALEXIE: No. Although, you know, when you're a writer, you know, in this era certainly you are pretty much a salesperson, you know. As soon as the book is published, you become Willy Loman, flying through the air with all the other salespeople, and you know, you're in the same Radissons and the Hyatts. So the job descriptions are similar.

SIMON: As you see it, what's the need for independent bookstores, because, as I don't have to tell you, you know, there are a number of ways that people can acquire books these days, including eBooks, and that you're happy when people buy them anyway.

ALEXIE: Well, I'm happy when people buy, yeah, certainly, but that's not how careers begin. My career happened, I was a, you know, 24-year-old Native American reservation poet. There's no algorithm that would have included me online at any bookstore and the fact remains that my career happened because the booksellers of independent bookstores hand-sold my book.

Readers and potential buyers would come into their stores, they would pick up my books of poems, my books of short stories, published by micro presses, and put it in their hands. And that's the kind of relationship that exists between independent booksellers and their customers. And authors have a chance there that they wouldn't otherwise have a chance in this giant Internet world where it's impossible to get noticed.

SIMON: You going to find it hard not to recommend your books as you're on the floor today? I mean, in fact, as I say that aloud, why not? The opportunity to buy a Sherman Alexie book from Sherman Alexie and have him sign it should be great for people.

ALEXIE: Why, I mean, that's part of it, certainly, but that's not primarily why I there, and I'm also working in Seattle, you know, my hometown where I live. So I'm certainly - most of the people who show up are probably going to already have copies of my books.

I'm going to be doing what a bookseller does. They're going to walk in and I'm going to say - I'm going to ask them, what kind of book are you looking for? And they're going to say well I loved this book of stories by Laurie Moore and I'm going to say well why don't you check out Natalie Serber's "Shout Her Lovely Name?" I think you'd really enjoy that book.

SIMON: You call it indies first, but not indies only. Why is that?

ALEXIE: Well certainly everybody has their choice of where to buy, and not everybody's close to an independent bookstore and we don't want to be dictorial(ph) about this. We're not looking for a monopoly. We are looking for people to shop small, to shop locally, and I think by doing that they promote a more healthy, diverse and progressive literary world.

SIMON: Sherman Alexie. His most recent book is "Blasphemy" and if you're shopping at an independent bookstore in Seattle today, you might be able to buy a copy from the author himself. Thanks very much for being with us.

ALEXIE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.