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A Thriving Bookstore in the Age of Kindle

By S. Mathur

Beating all gloomy prognostications, independent booksellers seem to be thriving - and having a great time while doing so. Last year, the staff at Porter Square Books in Cambridge MA decided to celebrate #CyberMonday as #PoemMonday, coming up with rhymes for each customer at the checkout. Among these was an endearing ode to books in the age of Kindle: "I think that I shall never look / Upon a Kindle lovely as a book. / A book that needs no battery / Or USB plug or memory."

A wider selection of poems from the day is available on the store's blog, run by Josh Cook, one of the store's booksellers. Porter Square Books was founded in 2004 by a group of booksellers who had recently left another store. The founders sold the shop to its current owners in 2013.

The selection of books at Porter Square Books is as broad as possible, but the booksellers inevitably leave their mark, says Cook. "We try to cater to as many different tastes and interests as the physical limits of our shelves will allow, but as the store has grown to reflect the tastes and personalities of our booksellers." Cook believes that the children's and young adult sections are particularly strong, as are the offerings in literary fiction, history, essays and poetry. "It also depends a bit on when you visit as well," says Cook. "You might get to talk to a bookseller who is an expert on graphic novels and comics, or who reads a lot of books in translation, or reads on the cutting edge of science fiction and fantasy."

Events and book readings likewise try to reflect a range of interests and people- from debut authors at independent presses to bestselling veterans. Cook recalls an event the bookstore ran with two authors - Tanwi Nandini Islam (author of Bright Lines) and Kaitlyn Greenidge (author of We Love You Charlie Freeman.) "Both read from their debut books, and then had a dynamic conversation about everything from being writers of color to the questions they find themselves asking every time they start a new novel," says Cook. One of the readings last year was from Cook's own novel, An Exaggerated Murder.

Besides holding events at the bookstore itself, Porter Square Books works to nurture a love of reading through outreach programs directed at local kids. Every year, the shop collaborates with the Cambridge Public Library to collect books as gifts for children living in transitional housing. Porter Square Books, through its charitable foundation, also works with local schools to provide books to students for free or at discounted prices - and to bring authors in for readings and discussions. "It really is amazing how big of an impact you can have on future readers when you put an actual author in front of them," says Cook.

Porter Square Books is located at 25 White Street in Cambridge, MA. It is open from 7am-9pm on Monday through Friday and 8am-7pm on Saturday and Sunday.

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