Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co.

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9780151004256: Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co.

For twenty years, from 1977 to 1997, Books & Co. was one of the premier independent bookstores in the country. Stocking a wide range of quality fiction and nonfiction, Books & Co. was the kind of bookstore writers and readers dream about: a place where reading was an adventure, where interesting works would always be available, where writers would congregate to share ideas and discuss their writing. Its closing, in a rent dispute with the Whitney Museum of Art, caused a media sensation as readers and book lovers decried the end of a cultural icon. In Bookstore, Lynne Tillman tells the story of this legendary store and its determined founder, Jeannette Watson, with help from the voices of Brendan Gill, Roy Blount Jr., Fran Lebowitz, Calvin Trillin, Susan Sontag, Paul Auster, Simon Schama, Lyn Chase, Susan Cheever, Leila Hadley, J.D. McClatchy, Richard Howard, and many more. And the story goes beyond the walls of the store itself to explore the state of publishing and bookselling in a time when the very landscape of the book world has shifted radically. A fascinating account of business, books, and writerly aspiration, Bookstore is a vital window into a world so many have fantasized about.

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Review:

Every few years a new book comes along that belongs to a select category one might label "the bookstore bio." Comprising such titles as Old Books, Rare Friends or 84 Charing Cross Road, these few, these happy few biographies are purportedly about the proprietors of a particular store. In reality, however, they are as much about the relationships booklovers forge as they are about books. Certainly this is true of The Bookstore, Lynne Tillman's entertaining history of a New York literary landmark, Books & Co. Founded in 1977 by IBM heiress Jeannette Watson, the shop became a legendary stomping ground for everyone from Woody Allen to Salman Rushdie. When it finally closed its doors in 1997 due to a rent dispute with the Whitney Museum, it was a blow felt by bibliophiles round the world.

Though Books & Co. is gone, its hold on the hearts of its admirers is still strong, and Tillman has had no trouble rounding up a slew of former patrons to sing its praises; the history is punctuated with anecdotes covering the full spectrum of bookstore life. John G. Hanhardt, describing Books & Co.'s philosophy section, remarks "I think of Books & Co. as a curated space," while sales rep Ed Solowitz wryly comments on the store's buying policies: "We don't even want to talk about returns. I tell people, I don't even watch election results because they say 'We're going to the returns.' I get very nervous. Returns, I get very nervous." The likes of Brendan Gill, Fran Liebowitz, Paul Auster, Amy Hempel, Susan Sontag, and many, many more writers and readers weigh in with their memories as well. And weaving in, out, and around these various reminiscences is Watson's personal account of her enterprise from its earliest inception to its final days. Books & Co. will be sorely missed; The Bookstore reminds us of why. --Alix Wilber

About the Author:

Lynne Tillman is the author of several books, including The Velvet Years: Warhol's Factory 1965-1967 and the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist No Lease on Life. She teaches creative writing at Bard College and lives in New York.

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