Tell us about the history of Literati bookstore.
In the spring of 2013, my wife Hilary and I opened Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor. It was a very scary time to open a bookstore. Borders just closed. Around the United States, the storyline was that bookstores were dead. But we often visited bookstores, loved bookstores, and believed in bookstores, so we moved from Brooklyn back to our native state Michigan to follow our dreams to open a small, community-minded independent bookstore.
How did the idea of Notes from a Public Typewriter come into fruition?
Our store’s logo is based on my grandfather’s 1930s Smith Corona typewriter, so I thought, “I should put out a typewriter for people to use.” I left a blank white page in the typewriter and waited to see what would happen. Over time, people left all kinds of notes — personal notes, funny notes, proposals, break-ups, and everything in-between. Over the years, I’ve collected thousands of notes and Oliver Uberti, co-editor and designer of the book, and I thought those notes shouldn’t be locked away in my filing cabinet. They should be shared with the world.
What’s something that was written on your typewriter that’s stayed with you?
Sometimes people leave very heartfelt notes. I feel like I need to read every single note — I don’t want to miss anything. I remember one note in particular, and I realized something extraordinary was happening with this typewriter. People were using it not only to leave whimsical and creative notes, but they also used it as a cathartic diary. Here is the note:
(two days sober)
thrilled about the first
terrified of the second
do not have enough $$$
to buy a book
but I am comfortable here.
What’s your favourite book?
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. For me, it shows me that with close inspection and observation, the most profound and moving adventures can take place from one own’s backyard. It taught me to look closer.
Where is your favourite place to read?
I’ve transitioned from a night reader into a morning reader. There’s nothing better than a cup of coffee and a good book.
Beyond buying and selling books, what do you think the purpose of a bookstore is?
Now perhaps more than ever during my lifetime, there is a need for people to gather in a space to discuss ideas and perspectives. A bookstore can provide that gathering space. The conversations people have over books are often different and deeper than the conversations happening at brunch. As many of our lives continue to become digital, and our experiences continue to become digital, there is a real need to connect face to face. A book can provide the framework to break down barriers we build around ourselves and instead connect with people face-to-face who may be different or have had different experiences.
What do you think the future holds for bookstores?
I am a believer in the book. For me, the book is a perfect item. It is a perfect thing. It does exactly what it intends to do, can last hundreds of years, does not need electricity or batteries, and can be gifted from generation to generation. How many products in our lives can say that? As long as the bookstore embraces the concept of the book and celebrates it and cares for it, I think bookstores will always be relevant and important.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to work in the book industry?
Be loud. Celebrate what you do. Celebrate what you stand for. People, most people, don’t understand what is happening to our communities with the over-digitization of our lives and how a few companies are dominating the retail and publishing environments. It is a real concern. And the more people who can stand in front of their families and friends and strangers and say, “We need to change our habits, we need to support local bookstores and local grocery stores and local farmers and local makers and local people,” the better off we as a collective will be. So be loud. We book people are often more of the introspective kind, and there is a time for that as well, but there is also a time for us to stand together and shout loudly and proudly about what we do and what kind of community we want to be. And that time is now.