by Susan Rebecca White
It’s a Tuesday, and I’m at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. I came here for a meeting, but that ended hours ago. Now, I’m working in the study, a cozy room lined with bookshelves that contain as many novels as theological tomes, as our co-pastors were both English majors.
Perhaps you are thinking, “That is all very nice, Susan. But what does it have to do with independent bookstores?” In my case, everything. I found NDPC because of Cynthia, who is married to Frank Reiss, who owns my neighborhood independent bookstore, A Cappella. Frank is Jewish, Cynthia Presbyterian, and when my husband and I were looking for a church, she suggested I check out North Decatur, which is known for its progressive theology and activism. From the first sermon I heard—which made space for doubt—I knew I had found my place.
Such a feeling of homecoming was not unlike first walking into A Cappella nearly 15 years ago, new to the neighborhood if not new to Atlanta, my MFA freshly minted, my drive to become a published novelist palpable. And when I did get published, Frank read the galley of Bound South, and called to tell me how funny it was, how well it captured a certain slice of Atlanta.
Soon after, Frank introduced me to Jessica Handler, whose memoir, Invisible Sisters, was published within months of Bound South. My writing group was short a member, so we invited Jessica to join, and over the years our friendship has grown and deepened. When I was going through a divorce, Jessica invited me over, fed me, and sat talking with me in her living room, a cat on each of our laps, a glass of wine in our hands, the guest bed freshly made, so that I didn’t have to worry about driving home. How cool that we each published a novel last year, and that our writing group critiqued early drafts of both books.
Truly, A Cappella Books has a history of providing me with unexpected treasures. Often the treasure is actual books. Visiting the store, I always find something perfect to read that I didn’t even know I was looking for. Once, it was How to Be Idle, a book that encourages people to, among other things, take more naps—which is, seriously, the best advice. Another time, it was The Skies Belong to Us, an account of the spate of airline hijackings that occurred from 1968-1975, a book that indirectly influenced my fourth novel, which explores a group of radical militants during the Vietnam war era. Last December, I found the charmingly illustrated Your Cabin in the Woods, a how-to guide that was a spot-on present—if only for daydreaming—for my carpenter husband.
Yes, I can sometimes find a book for cheaper on Amazon, but at what cost?
When I buy a book from A Cappella, I know that over 40 cents of every dollar spent gets reinvested into the local community. I know that A Cappella’s employees are paid fairly, and treated well. I know that they, in turn, promote books they love, including those written by lesser known authors. It’s a virtuous cycle of support, allowed for, in part, because A Cappella has no shareholders, demanding short-term profit above all.
Indies matter because, like a beloved place of worship—whatever the religion—they bind communities together. May we all worship at the altar of independent bookstores, for they deeply enrich our lives.
Susan Rebecca White is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Bound South, A Soft Place to Land, and A Place at the Table. A graduate of Brown University and the MFA program at Hollins University, Susan has taught creative writing at Hollins, Emory, SCAD, and Mercer University, where she was the Ferrol A. Sams, Jr. Distinguished Chair of English Writer-in-Residence. An Atlanta native, Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband and son.