Silly Lit: Echoes of Meg Ryan

Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic, visited Martha’s Vineyard last Friday, appearing at the Katherine Cornell Theatre.  My first reaction to this fascinating news from Publisher’s Lunch was, of course: “OMG. A famous person visiting Martha’s Vineyard?! How groundbreaking.”

Then, I realized the story was about how the owners of two local bookstores had joined forces to lure Russo to the Vineyard’s swanky shores, a noteworthy feat considering these two businesswoman should be competing against one another for browsing tourists…er, readers.  The two stores—Bunch of Grapes, owned by Dawn Braasch, and Edgartown Books, owned by Susan Mercier—managed to collectively stir up enough interest to bring the Pulitzer-prize winner author to the Vineyard, a sign of this post-Amazon age where booksellers must unite to fend off looming bankruptcy.

That’s all hunky dory and all, but then I read this quote from Braasch about how the collaboration serves customers: “It’s great to be able to say to a customer, if we don’t have [a book], ‘Let me call Edgartown Books.’ My goal is if we don’t have it, they will or vice versa.”

Ok, I understand where she’s coming from: I like to sing kumbaya and pretend capitalism doesn’t exist as well.  But that last bit sounded disturbingly like the fatal line from the literary classic-movie “You’ve Got Mail,” when Meg Ryan exclaims how *great* it is that a Fox Books superstore is moving just around the corner from her tiny shoppe. “This will be the book district! If they don’t have it, we will.” The vice versa is added as an afterthought on that occasion, but it’s the death knell of the poor Shop Around the Corner.

Maybe this isn’t the case, but I’m guessing that as Braasch and Mercier are loving their booky friendship, they’re also sharpening their teeth and vying for position when it comes to raking in the most tourist cash.  This is tough time for independent bookstores, and I don’t care how “different” Martha’s Haven is from Edgartown; for the sunburned tourists who actually buy your books, it’s Martha’s Vineyard and they’re only hitting up one bookstore while on vacation.


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