The government bailed out the car industry. Why not the book industry? So asked a bestselling author at the recent Book Expo in New York. Good question. Don’t books transport us, albeit through the imagination, to places we’d never reach no matter how efficient our automobile? Books represent what’s best about the human imagination: our ability to create, question and dream. Aren’t books as valuable as cars? Many think so. James Patterson, for one, is taking action. The celebrated author has pledged $1 million in grants to bookshops. He knows bookshops are the caretakers of a community’s cultural capital. And he knows bookshops are struggling. Patterson wants to ensure they continue to provide places for today’s young readers to wander, to discover and be inspired a generation from now, when tomorrow’s thought leaders might drive to their favorite bookshop in a solar-powered vehicle and be greeted by name when they walk through the bookshop’s door.

While the French government has named books “an essential good,” we don’t expect a government bailout here. But we do count on community support. We at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, New York (www.caniosbooks.com) have applied for a Patterson grant, and we’re serious about what we do: We provide that neighborhood place to meet interesting creative people in the arts, sciences, literature, journalism, music and more. A place to learn about books that open doors to new ideas. Where vital community relationships are nurtured and where local money circulates in the local community.

We’re asking our supporters and friends to log onto www.jamespatterson.com/booksellers, answer three simple questions, and recommend Canio’s Books for a $12,000 grant. What will we do if we win? To begin, we’ll update our antiquated website to better share our story with readers worldwide, expand our programming like “Grammar Garage” an after-school homework help for kids and “Poet’s Corner” for budding bards. Plus, help cover ever-mounting expenses while we work on creative expansion.

Why support us? Canio’s Books has long been a gathering place for creative people, for curious readers, for those looking for something new, different and interesting to stimulate their imagination. Since 1980 we’ve hosted author events, art exhibitions, and concerts, discussions on the environment, workshops, panels on sustainability and more. We organize read-ins and partner with neighbors: local libraries and environmental groups like the South Fork Natural History Museum, Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, and Dock-to-Dish, a sustainable fishing program; Bay Street, our local theater; the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, among others. These partnerships strengthen our community bonds through books.

“Books change lives, and they’re beautiful objects, and they have a special place in our history and culture,” writes Peter Brown, children’s book author and illustrator. In a recent blog post, he lamented the strong-arm tactics of Amazon, holding books hostage in their bidding war with publisher Hachette. Many have questioned what our so-called culture of convenience is really costing us in terms of cultural capital. We’ve seen bookshops close across the country at an alarming rate. Less than 2,000 shops now serve the nation’s readers. In the 1990s there were twice as many. Many of New York’s most revered booksellers have shuttered their doors. What remains of our human endeavors? Anonymous chains and soul-less screens?

Bookshops bring people together. A quick look at our recent line-up of speakers includes internationally acclaimed poets like Mark Doty, Edward Hirsch, Philip Schultz, Grace Schulman and Marie Ponsot. Thought leaders like world-renowned marine biologist Carl Safina, independent journalist Amy Goodman, and an “Introduction to Dante” workshop taught by our founding owner Canio Pavone. Internationally renowned jazz guitarist Jack Wilkins recently played a stunning set within the confines of our cramped space.

But it’s not only about big names at Canio’s. We’ve hosted student writers from Rena’s Promise Creative Writing Camp for young people, open-mike nights gathering poets for peace and healing post 9/11. We celebrate our rich local history and promote “Read Local” books written by the many novelists and journalists who call the East End of Long Island their home. And we celebrate local artists. Canio’s Gallery features small works by painters, photographers and sculptors who’ve been attracted to the East End landscape and and whose gifts enrich our lives.

It’s a privilege to serve this community that for decades has attracted scores of creative people. Meanwhile, we work hard to protect this little piece of Paradise and provide a quiet welcoming place in a fast-changing world where the human imagination is revered, encouraged and celebrated.

 

Maryann Calendrille is the owner of Canio’s Books.   
 
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