Celeste Ng Wants You to Buy A Lot of Books This Weekend

Saturday, April 28 is Independent Bookstore Day.

This year, Saturday, April 28 marks the fourth annual Independent Bookstore Day, a national celebration of independent bookstores across the country. More than 490 indies will participate (including Chicago’s), and as if that weren’t exciting enough, Celeste Ng, the best-selling author of Little Fires Everywhere, has been chosen as the big day’s Author Ambassador of 2018.

With mega booksellers like Amazon dominating sales, independent book stores need our support to survive. And it’s important that they do! It’s not just the books they sell that make them great—it’s the sense of community that they create in their local neighborhoods. Bookworms everywhere seem to agree that independent bookstores are essential: Recent stats suggest that the total number of local indies in the United States is on the upswing.

Ng, who began the year with the news that Little Fires Everywhere will soon be a TV series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, spoke to us about her new role as Author Ambassador. She also has some ideas for readers looking for a challenge.

Photos by Kevin Day Photography.

Amy Brady

Congratulations on becoming this year’s Independent Bookstore Day Author Ambassador! What do you hope to achieve in this role?

Celeste Ng

I hope Independent Bookstore Day will help more people see that bookstores aren’t just places to buy books; they’re the center of a whole ecosystem of readers, writers, and booksellers, as well as important centers for conversation and community. And then I hope they’ll start buying more of their books at their local stores, to support them! Sometimes people just aren’t aware their indie bookstores are there until they actually visit, and my hope is that the celebrations will bring more people across the thresholds.

Amy Brady

For readers who have yet to hear about Independent Bookstore Day (IBD), can you tell us a bit about what it is and why it came about?

Celeste Ng

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April. It is a celebration of the belief that Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers, an entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity, and living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand.

Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. In addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day when you stop into one (or hopefully more!) of your favorite local indie bookstore.

Amy Brady

Despite the persisting myth that indie bookstores are dying, it seems they’re actually becoming more popular—and more numerous—than ever. Why do you think this is?

Celeste Ng

I think a good analogy is putting an animal on the endangered species list: when its population starts to rise again, it’s great, but it doesn’t mean you stop all your conservation efforts. There’s still a long way to go. It’s fantastic that more communities are recognizing the value of independent bookstores, and that more people are opening stores across the country. But as any bookseller will tell you, it’s hard work and the margins are pretty thin. A more telling figure might be how many of these stores are still open in five years—and that really depends on whether customers support them.

Amy Brady

Let’s be practical a moment about book buying. Mega stores like Amazon offer convenience by shipping books straight to people’s doorsteps. What do indies provide that the book giants don’t?

Celeste Ng

Booksellers read more than anybody (except maybe librarians?), so they recommend books that you might not have discovered otherwise—look for their shelf talkers, or just talk to a bookseller and ask for recommendations. Tell them what you like to read, and odds are they’ll give you much better recommendations than an online algorithm. Independent bookstores also provide a center for conversation and community. They hold events, where you can hear from authors directly, learn something new, and engage in discussions; most indies also run book clubs to connect fellow readers. And nearly every indie has story time, one of many ways to encourage reading in young people. My kid has little interest in scrolling through a website, but he’ll happily browse the children’s section and find something he wants to read.

Finally, a lot of people don’t know how much an independent bookstore can do for you. They can usually special-order any book in print—just ask at the counter, and they can have it for you in a few days at no extra charge. Many indies have customer loyalty programs, which usually brings the price of books close to an online retailer’s price, and most will ship books to you or sometimes even deliver locally. If you’re into ebooks, quite a few indies offer books via Kobo. And whenever you buy at an independent bookstore, most of that money stays in your immediate community, as opposed to many online retailers that don’t pay sales tax. I learned recently that shifting even a small percentage of your book buying—as little as 1 in every 10 books you buy—goes a huge way towards the health of your local bookstore and your community. So when you shop locally, you’re helping the local economy, too.

Amy Brady

It was recently announced that your wonderful novel Little Fires Everywhere will become a limited TV series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Congratulations again! Do you think the show will inspire more folks to read the book?

Celeste Ng

I hope so! They’re going to be different things, because they’re different forms of storytelling—but my favorite adaptations are actually those that are true to the spirit of the original yet also add some twists, and part of the fun is seeing what changes. I know many people like to read the book before they see an adaptation; conversely, I hope that people who see the show will be led back to the book.

Amy Brady

Any other authors or books you’d like to recommend that folks check out while visiting their local indie on April 28th?

No one book suits everyone, so how about a few general guidelines instead? Challenge yourself to pick up a book by a woman or LBGTQ/nonbinary person, a book by a person of color, and a book in a genre you don’t usually read—whether that’s poetry, short stories, memoir, graphic novel, or something else entirely. Think of it as trying a new food: you don’t have to finish it if you don’t like it, but just take a bite. You might just be surprised.

Amy Brady

What’s your favorite indie bookstore, and why?

Celeste Ng

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to answer this question—isn’t that like picking a favorite child? But I’ll tell you a few that are near to my heart. Porter Square Books is my local; there’s nothing like an indie bookstore you can walk to, and I’m in there all the time. The staff are fantastic, and the owners, Dina Mardell and David Sandberg, just sold half of the store to the booksellers, so that the staff can take ownership of the store down the road. It’s such a great thing for the staff, and it will ensure the longevity of the store. Belmont Books is a new store that’s opened up in the Boston area with an amazing children’s section that’s an entire floor. Elliott Bay Books in Seattle is such a gorgeous store—plus, they post pics of the dogs that visit on Twitter. Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis is like a little maze full of treasures; I always get lost in there, and that’s not a complaint. And Ann Arbor, where I went to grad school, is home to two of my favorites: longtime stalwart Nicola’s Books and newcomer Literati Bookstore—both of them are gems.


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About Amy Brady

Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

3 comments on “Celeste Ng Wants You to Buy A Lot of Books This Weekend

  1. Thanks for reminding me to head to our indie bookseller — Union Ave Books in Knoxville, TN — to purchase Little Fires Everywhere. I’ve been wanting to read it, and this post has inspired me to take action!


  2. Willenator

    I’ll admit I didn’t even know if there were any independent bookstores where I live. After reading this, I decided to do some digging and find out. Turns out there is one, so I’ll have to check them out.


  3. Thanks Amy for wonderful article Spot on Buy from indie shops so they can stay independent


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