Marc Fitten, author of the new novel Valeria's Last Stand (Bloomsbury), is "spicing up" his U.S. book tour by visiting 100 independent bookstores along the way. On April 29, he started chronicling his journey -- christened the Indie 100 -- on his WordPress.com weblog, with occasional updates on IndieBound.org, and via Twitter.
Fitten, who expects to average four or five hours on the road daily until the end of July, reported, "I've visited some fabulous stores already, including, A Cappella Books in Atlanta; Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Porter Square Books on the Cambridge/Somerville border, Titcomb's on Cape Cod, and Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Massachusetts; The Vermont Bookshop in Middlebury and the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont. Those are only a few."
Fitten is on a quest to document what makes each of the stores on his travels unique. Harvard Bookstore's new eco-friendly delivery is one of the innovations that caught his eye. "It was really amazing to see," he explained. "Specifically, their green delivery program, which was a response to Amazon. All ordered books are delivered by bike messengers and the cost is cheaper than UPS. Very exciting."
Fitten, who participated in the Author Reception at the January 2009 ABA Winter Institute in Salt Lake City, said the event was "an eye-opener. Book lovers wanting to sell books and putting themselves in business against corporations just seemed so cool." While at the Institute, he asked if booksellers knew of any touring authors who'd written about the bookstores they'd been to while on tour. "I was surprised nobody had ever gone on a tour of stores and documented it," he said. "It seemed like such an obvious thing to do."
Since Bloomsbury was already sending him on tour for Valeria's Last Stand (a comic story of late love in a Hungarian village), Fitten figured he'd stay a few extra days at various stops, on his own dime, and check out area bookstores. "It's my own little project, separate from my formal tour," he said. "I'm curious to see what I learn."
Stops on Fitten's U.S. tour for the most part range up and down the East and West coasts. He will also be touring in Germany and France, but he isn't counting those bookstores towards his 100-bookstore goal.
Whatever he does learn on the way, Fitten wants to share with booksellers. "I know booksellers meet annually and have their conferences and talk about things, but I thought a systematic look at the trenches might be useful," he said. "One of my goals is to collect the best 25 ideas and maybe present them to booksellers at a conference. Why not? I've already seen a handful."
Meanwhile, whether he's at one of the last feminist bookstores, Charis Books & More in Atlanta, Georgia, or talking about the cyclical nature of retail with Carol Chittenden at Eight Cousins, "meeting bookstore nerds is fun," he said. "The innovation they're bringing to bookselling is astounding. I've never looked at a bookstore the way they are looking at it, and I'll never be able to look at a bookstore the same way again."
Other stops on Fitten's itinerary include RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; University Bookstore in Seattle; Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon; Book Soup in Los Angeles; and 90-plus more. --Karen Schechner