My wife and I have sometimes toyed with the idea of running a mom and pop bookstore. Our combined lack of business sense (and capital) have always prevented us, but dreams can be comforting and persistent. I met Andrew Laties at his bookstore Book & Puppet Company in Easton. His neighbor, a professional colleague, introduced us just as things were gearing up for the first Easton Book Festival, back in pre-Covid 2019. It was a big event, and Andrew surprised me by remembering my name when we ran into each other at one of the many presentations held that weekend. It was there that I picked up a copy of his acclaimed Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want to Fight for—From Free Speech to Buying Local to Building Communities. Although the subtitle is lengthy, it encapsulates what the book is about.
A true liberal, Laties is also a savvy businessman. Rebel Bookseller is the one book you want to be sure to have on hand if you ever dream of starting an indie. Independent bookstores stand for so much of what liberals value—helping local communities, free expression of ideas, education. Indeed, one of the draws of the Lehigh Valley is its ability to support several independent bookstores. We lived for years in an affluent (yours truly excepted) community in New Jersey. It had a small indie that closed after just a few years. The nearby mall (which draws employees a nearly two-hour commute from New York City, I kid you not) was a better measure of the local mindset. We had to drive to Bernardsville or Princeton to find indies, or perhaps all the way to New Hope or Montclair. Communities that support bookstores are great places to live.
The acquisition of knowledge is, according to a most rudimentary understanding of human civilization, our most basic need. The invention of writing is what set us on the track to true progress. Anyone who has benefitted from modern medicine, technology, or the rule of law, has writing to thank. Books represent the surest way to keep knowledge alive. Rebel Bookseller moves beyond the sobriquet of knowledge into wisdom. This is a very well-informed book. Laties knows the realities of how publishing works and the real costs involved with big box corporations deciding what people will read. For anyone who wants to think independently, a local bookstore is an essential business. My wife and I will likely never be able to run our own little indie, but we both reaped the rewards of reading, and dreaming, about the possibilities.