The wonder of Cleveland’s indie bookstores

Last night I went to Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry Road to drop off copies of Writing Without Hiding.

The place was a hive of activity. Upstairs, a new writer’s group was meeting. Downstairs, people browsed for books — some undoubtedly on their way to or from a deliciously gloppy meal at Tommy’s. The checkout desk practically sagged with used books to be stocked. Tonight’s stack contained mostly pulp sci-fi paperbacks with purple-background covers and yellow pages (the book equivalents of Easter eggs!).

Presiding over it all was the indefatigable Suzanne DeGaetano, the store’s owner. She has steely gray hair and observant eyes. She’s also a great businesswoman. She’s sold hundreds of copies of New to Cleveland, more than we’ve sold at any other single outlet.

“So what else are you working on?” Suzanne asked, as I handed over my books.

“A lot of fiction at the moment,” I told her. “Submitting stories, shopping around my novel, writing new stuff to build up my chops…”

She nodded. “It’s a process,” she said.

We spoke for less than 10 minutes, and it was like plugging my finger into an outlet conducting not electricity but useful information about the local writers’ scene. She told me about a new writing group upstairs, for example. She tipped me off to the half-day Western Reserve Writing Conference happening this Saturday, March 29 at Lakeland Community College.

By the time she handed me a check for the copies of Writing Without Hiding she bought, I almost felt like it should be the other way around.

It was only my latest reminder of the amazing supportiveness of Cleveland’s independent bookstores. Just last weekend, I had a chance to read with Oberlin poet Kazim Ali at Visible Voice Books in Tremont. This store, too, has  supported my work from the get-go. Owner Dave Ferrante happens to be one of the most off-handedly nice guys I’ve ever met, completely devoid of pretense — and he runs a store that you could lose yourself in for hours. It’s tiny but somehow endless in its nooks and crannies and coziness. The attic reading room is like an adult treehouse for writers and readers, with worn leather chairs and creaky wood floors.

Loganberry Books, on Shaker Square, is as expansive and roomy as Visible Voice is tight. Any book lover, walking in, will feel as if they should be hearing choral music booming from the sound system: Welcome to your new mecca. One of the things I love about this bookstore is its exultation of genre fiction: Walls of sci-fi, comic books, romance and crime.

And that’s not to mention Appletree Books at Cedar-Fairmount or the suburban Fireside Bookshop in Chagrin Falls and The Learned Owl in Hudson. Last but not least, one of my very favorite places in Cleveland: Carol and John’s Comic Shop, in the West Park neighborhood, where the staff will help you find (and will likely have read) any graphic novel or comic you could dream of.

All of these places have been not only willing but eager to carry and promote my work. For a writer, that’s beyond a blessing. It’s necessary to being heard, to making the connections we all yearn for. A heartfelt thank you to all of the above!

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