Lansing Progressives Honor Only Local Independent Bookstore: Everybody Reads

Last night I participated in a grand celebration to recognize the unique gift that Everybody Reads Books and Stuff is to the Lansing, Michigan, community. In addition to being the city’s only independent bookstore, it is a valuable source of progressive books and magazines and an important progressive gathering place. In these tough economic times, friends and supporters gathered to let owner Scott Harris know his work is appreciated.

I was honored to be the featured author. After my talk, about volume 4 of my Voices from the Underground Series (Joe Grant’s Stop the Presses! I Want to Get Off: A Brief History of the Prisoners’ Digest International), I had the further honor of introducing Scott.

The venue was Avenue Café, next door to the bookstore. Café owner Colleen graciously donated refreshments for the reception that preceded my talk. The event was sponsored by the Peace Education Center, an amazing activist group that has been on the forefront of progressive political issues for over forty years.

Following are my introductory words after my author talk:

Now I want to talk about the bookstore next door. Everybody Reads is becoming unique. This isn’t a good thing. Independent bookstores are facing competition unlike any they’ve ever faced, from electronic bookstores, and they’re fighting for their lives. They’ve always competed against the chains, but now the chains are facing the same competition, and they’re losing. Remember B. Dalton? Ever hear of that little bookstore down the road in Ann Arbor: Borders?

So we’re here tonight to call attention to the most important—is it the only?—independent bookstore in Lansing: Everybody Reads.

It’s a library where you can browse through books, read a few chapters, and find the ones that fit your style and interest level.

  • It’s a treasure map where you can discover authors you never heard of because their books happen to be shelved next to the ones you came looking for.
  • It’s a community gathering place where you can meet with friends and group members to talk politics and literature in a stimulating environment, with food brought in from next door—from Avenue Café.

You can’t bring food to an electronic bookstore.

To me as an author, Everybody Reads is unique in the way they treat their visiting authors. I mean absolutely unique, not almost unique. Did you know that when authors speak here, and then they sell books, all of the proceeds from sales of their books go straight to them? The bookstore keeps nothing—just because Scott Harris wants to support authors.

This is unheard of. I’ve spoken at bookstores all over the country in the past quarter of a century. None had such an author-friendly policy.

So I’m here tonight to show my gratitude to Everybody Reads and to Scott Harris, because of his vision and his hard work and dedication to the store and this community.

And I’m here to tell you to buy lots of my books tonight because all of the proceeds are going to Everybody Reads. Buy them for yourselves or for holiday gifts. As the end of the year approaches, it’s time to get your taxes in order. Buy a complete set of the series and donate it to your favorite library. If we run out, place your order and we’ll deliver it to you.

I want Everybody Reads to make it because I love books, I love community gathering places, and, although I’m no longer a resident, I love Lansing. Those are some of my reasons for being here tonight. What are yours?

Several attendees followed me with words of their own and then I introduced Scott.

Scott expressed his appreciation for our show of appreciation and then told the story—which he said he has told many times before but which many of us in attendance had never heard—about his own past experiences that solidified his value system and led him to open Everybody Reads. Most touching was his explanation of how he came to understand the difference between “charity” and “community,” a distinction that was learned as he and his two young children coped with the early death of his beloved wife, their mother. I’ll post the video when it becomes available. I gave a good talk about volume 4, but Scott’s talk was the highpoint.

Interview Tomorrow Morning on WMBR in Boston

If you’re not sleeping late tomorrow morning, Sunday March 13, you can catch me on “Radio With a View” at 10:30 a.m. on WMBR 88.1 FM in Boston. The show streams live online. The show also will be archived and accessible for two weeks at the station website. You can get in by clicking on “archive” and going to “Radio With a View” for that date. Host Marc Stern is professor of history and chair of the history department at Bentley University. He also is a long-time participant in noncommercial radio in Connecticut and New York. For the past 16 years he has hosted “Radio With a View.”

We’ll be talking about the Voices from the Underground Series, media freeks from the Vietnam era and now, generational commonalities and differences and reasons why, differences between web and print rabble rousing, the meaning of hard copy, and more. We’ll get esoteric at times, concrete at others, depending on how we’re both feeling on a Sunday morning. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you will be, too.

Don’t miss it.

And if you have your own thoughts, feel free to write to me at ken@voicesfromtheunderground.com.

Last Thursday’s event (March 3) at Everybody Reads bookstore in Lansing, by the way, was a great success. My thanks to Scott Harris, owner of ER, for hosting the event, and my friend Bill Castanier, who organized the event, as well as the editors and publisher at MSU Press who came to cheer me on. It was a great thrill to see old friends from back when whom I hadn’t seen in many years. One wrote to me the next day,

Being with you at Everybody Reads was a deep treat. I felt about half my age, thank you very much. You did it by your vivacious spirit, as well as reminding me of those “OLD DAYS.” Here is the place in this paragraph where I’d like to be able to print a smiley face. I wish we could place that caption amongst the other “LETTERS” on this “typewriter.” It was so great to see and hear you. I look forward eagerly to seeing you again. Best of everything to you and your sweet wife.”

Another wrote,

It was likewise great to see you and share your glow. Research can be very very lonely and you wonder if anyone really gives a darn about what you’re doing….and then you find ppl in a room who are there because they care… It’s awesome when that happens. 

They looked good. Clearly being a revolutionary helps to tone the skin and keep you looking young. If you’re on the fence, come over to the left side. There’s plenty of work to do. Witness what’s happening in Wisconsin and related Republican-infested states.

I also was honored by the appearance of former students from when I taught at Lansing Community College. One student wrote me afterward,

I was deeply affected by the talk Thursday night, for a few reasons: As you spoke, I reflected on what my life was like from age 18-21 and it was fairly average, unlike yours. I don’t know how you perceive your history, but I saw the events as somewhat rare and exceptional opportunities to be a part of history, and very hard won personal victories you achieved that many people won’t encounter by virtue of the circumstances and the karma they’re experiencing this time around in life. (That’s not a commentary on their efficacy or willingness, just on what might be available to them right now.)

The others in the room also made the aura that evening especially powerful. In a sense, I felt like I was sitting with some very old souls who were placed in this time and space together to do something special as a team, and a silent blood-bond existed there. (Sounds corny—sorry, but I was quite moved, choked up.) I think you all earned your angel wings early in life.

Selling and signing books was nice but seeing everyone, getting to tell stories I had never told before, and then receiving comments like these were the highpoints.

As I gathered up books and flyers at the end of the evening, Scott invited me back after volume 2 comes out. Look forward to seeing folks again at that time. More later.