Clifford GarstangWhen I was beginning to write fiction, a mentor of mine urged me to find a community of writers. That, he said, was more important than taking writing classes or getting an MFA. His point was that writers need to connect with other writers, partly because writing is a solitary profession and we all need human contact, but also because we can find inspiration and encouragement in other writers: She’s making progress on her book, so can I.

He might have added, except that it probably seemed too obvious, that writers also need to connect with readers. I’ve managed to connect with other writers in various workshops and conferences, and I’ve learned a great deal from these peer-to-peer and mentor-to-peer interactions. I’ve been able to share in the successes of my writing friends, and commiserate over failures.

It’s not as simple for a writer, especially an emerging writer, to connect with readers.

That is just one of the ways independent bookstores are important, to both writers and readers. I don’t mean necessarily that I’m going to walk into an independent bookstore and literally meet readers, although that of course does happen. It happens all the time, in fact, when those stores host readings in which writers do share their work directly with readers. As both a writer and a reader I love that kind of interaction and it’s another reason to treasure independent bookstores.

...what I really mean is that the booksellers make the connection between the books they have on the shelves and the customers whose preferences they’ve come to know.

The Shaman of Turtle ValleyBut what I really mean is that the booksellers make the connection between the books they have on the shelves and the customers whose preferences they’ve come to know. When I walk into one of the independent bookstores I frequent, I’m likely to be met with a recommendation. “Did you like that book by Wiley Cash you bought last month?” the bookseller might ask. “If you did, I bet you’d like this one by Jon Pineda.” Or, “I know you like Lee Smith’s work, so you should take a look at the latest by Jill McCorkle.” That kind of handselling of books doesn’t happen anywhere else.

So, for me, the true value of the Independent Bookstore is the community it creates. Sometimes that’s a real connection between writer and reader, in person, in real life, but more often than not it’s a virtual introduction for the reader, not to the writer herself, but to her words.


Clifford Garstang is the author of literary novel The Shaman of Turtle Valley and novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction, and the short story collection In an Uncharted Country. He is also the editor of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, a three-volume anthology of stories set around the world. A former Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea and an international lawyer, Garstang lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.