Let Us Now Praise Independent Bookstores, Public Libraries, and Local Newspapers

If it weren’t for independent bookstores and my local newspaper I would not be writing this blog. So this post is all about thanks and praise. There’s a role for you to play too, so keep reading!

I got the idea to praise these outstanding local institutions by reading this delightful Ann Patchett essay in the New York Times just before Stuart and I set off this summer for Petoskey, MI.

Jessilyn Norcross

Following the places named in the Times article, we visited McLean & Eakin Booksellers shop, and there met the new co-owner Jessilyn Norcross, and her wonderful staff. Not only did we buy books about by and about Hemingway and the Michigan North Country, we also got “insider” tips on what to see, eat, and do in the area. Our journey was made twice as delightful by a visit to a thriving independent bookstore. The store gives back to its own community in very creative ways, benefiting local schools and libraries, as the YouTube below illustrates.

These two told told us about Tom's Mom's Cookies and lots more!

But back to my own community, where there are other newspapers, bookstores, and public libraries to celebrate. Even though I get much of my news from online sources and NPR, I still subscribe to The Kalamazoo Gazette. Why? Because I believe that local communities need local newspapers. They provide a forum for democratic conversation and commonly-shared information. And they can do much good by focusing the spotlight on community needs, local politics, and local perspectives on the national scene.

They also can foster writers and workshops and a host of other issues I care about. I became a memoir writer because of this Kalamazoo Gazette community literary awards competition, where I won prizes in the adult memoir category in 2007 for “The Fresh Air Girl,” 2008 for “Daddy’s Girl,” and 2009 for “My Mother’s Pulpit.” I enjoyed going to the Portage District Library to accept the awards because the room was full of people who love to read and write, and I especially enjoyed seeing children and teenagers and MFA program students reading their work. Fantastic community relations, Kalamazoo Gazette! I also enjoy the Kalamazoo Public Library where I can browse, use a study room, and listen to local writers (so many wonderful ones) read from their work.

The Community Literary Awards brings all three of these institutions together. The newspaper partners with the local libraries and four independent bookstores (Bookbug a bookstore just for kids, Kazoo Books, Lowry’s Books, and the Michigan News Agency) in giving out these awards. All of these stores contribute so much to the literacy and economy of western Michigan. If you live anywhere close by, get thee to one or more of them! And buy!

Now, please comment below to add other local newspapers, public libraries, and independent bookstores you love and endorse. Let’s show our appreciation here and help to make our communities stronger.  Better yet, tell a story about how one of these three institutions changed your life.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Saloma Furlong on September 8, 2010 at 2:41 am

    I would also like to give tribute to independent book publishers. At a time when it gets harder and harder to find a large publisher willing to take a chance on anyone who isn’t already famous, independent and university presses are a great alternative to vying for the few slots in the publishing world for first-time authors.

    I tried for years to get my memoir published about growing up Amish, leaving the fold, and the life I’ve chosen. I had agents try to sell it to publishers and hand it back. Finally, last year I said, “I am going to sell this myself.” And I did. Thanks to the wonderful team at Michigan State University Press, my book will be in print in early 2010. And I couldn’t be happier with quality of their work.

    So, here’s to small presses who ensure that there are fresh, new voices being heard.

  2. shirleyhs on September 8, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Hi, Saloma,

    Thanks for adding another category to appreciate. And another institution under siege when budgets are cut–university presses. At the same time, small presses are sprouting up everywhere. We live in interesting times.

    Congratulations on your publication with MSU Press. Did you mean 2011 above?


  3. Saloma Furlong on September 10, 2010 at 2:33 am

    Hi Shirley,

    Yes, I did mean 2011. Thanks for asking.

    I came back to also mention that I really appreciate the Odyssey Bookstore here in the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts. It is staffed by people who are writers’ advocates, and they host wonderful book talks and community events, such as readers’ groups. So kudos to the Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

  4. shirleyhs on September 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks, Saloma. You rock, Odyssey!

  5. doradueck on September 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    The writing community in Winnipeg is rich and diverse, and there’s so much to praise about it — our library system, the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, and our wonderful McNally Robinson Booksellers are three that immediately come to mind. Thanks for the reminder to stop and appreciate their importance.

  6. shirleyhs on September 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I am in the midst of Canada-envy as I anguish over our terribly divisive political rhetoric and increasingly divided class structure in this country. So glad to have Canada as a better example to the north on many, many things. Grateful to the internet for making our connective tissue across national borders more visible.

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