An Island well read
Even in the summer, it is mind-boggling how much static, noise, and violence attacks our senses on a daily basis. Does the state of the world and its reflection in the news and media affect what we read? Susan Mercier, manager and buyer for Edgartown Books, an independent bookstore, offers a look at the Island community and its visitors. "Certain parts of our society are taking a step back and thinking about what they're buying and where - especially here," says Ms. Mercier.
She finds that most customers are neither asking for books from Oprah's Book Club nor are they seeking out the very obscure. Ms. Mercier explains, "As small as we are, we can have what people are looking for. If someone asks for something and we don't have it, I always find out why they are asking: 'What is it about?' We are always learning from our customers."
The American Booksellers Association and Indiebound.org put out an Indie Bestsellers List (IBL) weekly. Ms. Mercier says this list is an accurate meter of what people are buying here. She says, "Most people ask for our Staff Picks," of which many of the titles appear on the IBL. Books such as "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski, and "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri are top choices of both Ms. Mercier and many of her customers.
Just as crops and clothing change with the seasons, so, too, does book buying. Ms. Mercier says, "What we sell most of in the summer is well-written fiction." Beach reading, according to Ms. Mercier, is not synonymous with light reading. "We don't sell much Danielle Steel," she says. This is affirmed by the displays in the store. Whereas the Staff Favorites section is a prominently located wall display, the stereotypical light reads (Ms. Steel included) are tucked away in a display no bigger than a window.
In July and August the sale of self-help, health, and relationship books hit a low. It seems as though seasonal and year-round residents alike don't want to read about their inability to commit or how to lose 15 pounds during the peak vacation season. Among big summer sellers are books on nautical history, military history, and biographies.
Photos by Lynn Christoffers
As the summer turns to fall, travel books begin to fly from shelves and when winter hits, you can be sure the health books will be heavily stocked. "We sell a lot of books to year-rounders focused on sustainability. I think they are really thoughtful and civic-minded," says Ms. Mercier.
With the election on the horizon, buyers are choosing their books with care. Informative (as opposed to inflammatory) books are selling well. "I think people are a lot more thoughtful going into this election," says Ms. Mercier. "They are buying books just to help them learn about the candidates."
Young Vineyard readers are also careful in choosing what to read. It can be shocking to realize what kids and teens are watching on television; so what are they reading? Mercier points out the huge successes of The Middle Reader Series, for ages 8 to 12. Smart series that are based in reality and history are selling big. "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" by Rick Riordan, an adventure series built on Greek mythology, is one of Edgartown Books' biggest sellers.
Ms. Mercier, who has a freshman and senior at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, is thrilled that adult contemporary fiction is joining the classics on the high school reading lists. On the list for freshman is "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, and for seniors, "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver.
The Island is reading and enjoying sharing their reading experiences at Edgartown Books. "It's like working at a cocktail party," says Ms. Mercier. "People will stay and chat about books for 20 minutes." As to how well the Vineyard community is reading, Ms. Mercier says, beaming, "From my little snapshot I am very happy."
Adriana Stimola divides her time between West Tisbury and New York City where she is a singer and actress.