Bookseller Essays Debut in The Great Lakes Reader

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Last fall, Carl Lennertz, vice president for independent retailing at HarperCollins, put out a call to booksellers and librarians for essays for regional versions of State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, Ecco). The Great Lakes Reader, the first of nine planned titles, debuts this October. Here, in Lennertz's own inimitable style, is a look at how the project, which benefits the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, evolved and what's planned for the future.

I wanted to find a vehicle to have booksellers and librarians get published, and also one that might generate some funds for ABFFE. The light bulb moment came when Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey created the modern version of the WPA guides in State by State from Ecco. I was so taken by the pieces in that book, by the personal and emotional takes on life today in our country, that a collection of bookseller essays about their states struck me as doable.

The call went out, and I received about 35 essays pretty quickly. Then the task of picking and editing 50 pieces hit me, but I saw that we had all the Great Lakes states in. Light bulb #2: go by region, matched up to the regional associations, and run a store list in back. Go for a paperback, and for length, make it two to three essays per state, not just one.

In order to maximize the donation to ABFFE, people at Harper volunteered their time to edit, copyedit, do a little state facts research, design a jacket and the text, and shepherd it through the printer. Greg Mortimer at Ecco did a ton of work -- working weekends on text and layout, and coming up with a fantastic front and back cover concept. Sam Spiegel at Partner's agreed to handle all the distribution. And Jim Dana of GLIBA helped me get some booksellers to their keyboards on deadline!

The last piece of the puzzle was getting someone to cover the printing costs up front. We distribute Delphinium Books, a small literary press that just had a big breakout with The Pig Did It by Joe Caldwell. Joe is from Milwaukee, and [Delphinium's] two most recent books are coincidentally by Great Lakes writers, so bingo: they agreed to cover printing costs, and we designed ads for their books for the back of The Great Lakes Reader, along with an ad for the paperback of State by State, a letter from Chris Finan of ABFFE, and in one more nice coincidence, an ad for The Booklover's Guide to the Midwest: A Literary Tour by Greg Holden, just out from Clerisy Press, as Richard Hunt contributed an essay to our book and has offered to get some press coverage for our book.

The Great Lakes Reader is available only from Partners, and we're going to have a little celebration at GLIBA! I think six of the contributors will be there, and Sam, Jim, and I will be handing out reading copies. The introduction, some excerpts, and the list of contributors is up at a new blog,

And, yes, we are reissuing the call for bookseller and librarian entries for eight more regional books! Greg has the covers designed, and I have my red editing pen at the ready. We have some great essays already in from the previous call, but we need more.

Any past or present bookseller or librarian is eligible to submit pieces about their past or present state. (You can leave a state and still love it!) Around 2,500 words in Word, please. And, as you'll see from reading -- hint, hint -- State by State, now out in paperback, or The Great Lakes Reader, some pieces encompass the entire state and some are slices of life. A mix of all points of view would be ideal. As I said last year, get thee to your Corona, and I don't mean the beer ... unless they want to sponsor the books. Hmmm... --Carl Lennertz

The Great Lakes Reader Essay and Author List


"Life on a Wisconsin Lake" by Margie Petersen White, The Bookstore, Glen Ellyn, IL

"Wisconsin's Many Sides" by Kirk Farber, a librarian now in CO


"Hunt for Illinois" by Josh K. Stevens, Read Between the Lynes, Woodstock, IL

"Chicago: Big City Blinkin'" by Elizabeth Bidwell Goetz, Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Chicago, IL


"Contrary Indiana" by Randy Smith, Destinations Booksellers, New Albany, IN

"Basketball Jones" by Terry Whittaker, Viewpoint Books, Columbus, IN


"Michigan Left" by Justin Wadland, librarian now in WA

"Tough Enough Michigan" by Bill Cusumano, Nicola's, Ann Arbor, MI


"Small Town, Big Heart" by Liz Murphy, The Learned Owl Bookshop, Hudson, OH

"Ohio Nights" by Deb Covey, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

"Oh My, My O-hi-O" by Richard Hunt, Clerisy Press