robert gray

In Praise of Indie Bookstores

by Susan Henderson on April 28, 2018

Today is Independent Bookstore Day. How will you celebrate? And tell us a story about a favorite indie store.


Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness asked me some questions about indie bookstores and then wrote this gorgeous column that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I hope you’ll click over and read it: “IBD & Measuring Success by Relationships.”

But today, I’d like to tell a little longer story about the indie bookstores that fed my soul and helped me find my tribe, even in cities where I felt like an outsider…

It’s a bittersweet story because so many of those stores are gone. There was Chapters bookstore in DC, where I started my collection of James Baldwin novels and essays. There was Mills bookstore in Nashville, where I had a long conversation with staff about which translations of Dante are best and, on another day, about the great wisdom of Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi. And there’s Pittsburgh’s Phantom of the Attic (it’s still there!), where I learned of the glorious existence of The Sandman series and gamers (like finding out you have weird, distant cousins who don’t shower).


Here’s a glimpse at each indie bookstore I visited since The Flicker of Old Dreams came out…

Turn of the Corkscrew on Long Island with co-owner, Carol Hoenig…


Chevalier’s Books in Larchmont Village (LA) with the great David Ulin


Book Show in Highland Park (LA) with Peter H. Z. Hsu, reading for the Vermin on the Mount literary series…


The Book Catapult in San Diego with When We Were Ghouls author, Amy Wallen…


Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri with co-owner, Emily Hall…


Fun fact about Emily: She used to train birds of prey. And she said this, which I wanted to pass along to you: “It’s an incredibly empowering and humbling experience to have a bird of prey on your arm. The raptor trusts you enough to make you its perch, which is what is keeping it safe from danger and providing it a place from which to view the world. You are basically home base for an exquisitely evolved killing machine. It doesn’t matter if the bird is a tiny kestrel or screech owl, or a massive golden eagle- being that close to a raptor is… whew.”


Last but not least, I want to thank the Montana indies that have reached out to me… Donna at Keystone Bookstore in Lewistown, Mara Lynn at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, and Cassiopeia Books in Great Falls. I am grateful to all of you!


As I said about indies in Robert Gray’s column (and please read it), “No matter the city, I know where to find my tribe. And I don’t just ask them for book recommendations. I also let them lead me to the coffee shops, the restaurants, the music venues, and the art and recreation of their town. Because booksellers are the creative and intellectual heart of that community. And just as word of mouth keeps books alive, word of mouth keeps these small, vibrant bookstores and their communities alive.”


Some thank you’s are in order. Thank you to David Abrams, who has so generously featured my bookshelf, my book trailer, and “my first time” over at The Quivering Pen; to Gina Frangello, who reviewed my book for the Los Angeles Review of Books; to Barbara DeMarco-Barrett for interviewing me on KUCI-FM’s Writers on Writing; to Hubert O’Hearn for reviewing my book for The London Economic; to Caroline Leavitt for interviewing me on Caroline Leavittville; to BookPage for publishing my essay, Looking Death in the Eye; to Jason Schott, who reviewed my book in the Brooklyn Digest; to The Voice of Oma; to Tabitha Lord for interviewing me on Book Club Babble and live on the Author’s Cut; to Marshal Zeringue for featuring my book on the My Book, The Movie and The Page 69 Test; to Sally Christie for reviewing my book on Life Is A Story–Tell It Big; to June McInerney for reviewing my book on June’s Literary Blog; to Ric Marion for reviewing my book on Along the River; to Lori for reviewing my book on She Treads Softly; to Myfanwy Collins for name-checking my book on Bookish; to Lou Pendergrast for reviewing my book on More2Read; to Jennifer Haupt for talking with me at Psychology Today; to Angel for kind words about Mary at ouroborosangel; to Shannon for choosing my novel as a Literati staff pick; and to Jen for highlighting my book on Book Club Girl.


As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post:

Hala Alyan, Salt Houses
Zadie Smith, Feel Free
Mark Sarvas, Memento Park
Rupi Kaur, milk and honey
Naomi Shihab Nye, 19 Varieties of Gazelle
Rachel Khong, Goodbye, Vitamin 
Julia Fierro, The Gypsy Moth Summer
Jennifer Haupt, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking 
Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? 


That’s it for now. Go visit your favorite indie store, and then come back here and tell me about it in the comments section, where all the cools stuff happens.


Question of the Month: Gratitude

by Susan Henderson on March 5, 2012

We all have horror stories in this business, but today I want to hear stories about the good moments that keep you going, that make you feel like your writing matters and that it was worth it to work so long and hard on that story.

Recently I got the nicest surprise—a charm bracelet from someone who was moved by my book. The charms include a bear, an apple, a ruby, a cup, a newborn, and all kinds of other surprises drawn from Up from the Blue. It’s one of the nicest presents I’ve ever received, and I’m going to link Nancy’s website, NMC Originals, in hopes that some of the goodness flows back to her.

Our business requires much of us with no guarantees of success. We dig deep into often painful territory, rewrite and often throw out what we’ve worked on for hours, take tough feedback and the inevitable rejections. Often, what keeps us from giving up are those who make this road a little easier—responding to our writing, sharing tips and encouragement, opening doors.

Recently, the esteemed Robert Gray wrote an article for Shelf Awareness about literary friendship, and I’m very grateful to be included in that essay, along with some people I adore: Jessica Keener, Patry Francis, and Leora Skolkin-Smith.

Strangers matter, too. Thank you to The Foreign Circus Library, The Florida ReviewThe Year of Writing Dangerously, and to Norway’s KK magazine for the nice words!


Haven’t talked about my kids here in a while. Last week, they played a song on the radio with their School of Rock house band. The audio is here, along with some great photos taken by Tracie Smith. The radio station is WRCN 103.9, and the deejays you see in the photos are Frankie Dee, Henry K, and AJ Pero (drummer for Twisted Sister). It was a great opportunity for the kids, and they had such fun!


Let me end with an announcement of a book I was honored to blurb. Deborah Henry’s startling debut, THE WHIPPING CLUB, brings us inside a hidden page in Ireland’s history. When Ben Ellis, a Jewish journalist, becomes engaged to Irish schoolteacher Marian McKeever against their families’ wishes, Marian’s discovery that she is pregnant fuels fears that this may be one too many stresses on their upcoming marriage. Her uncle, a Catholic priest, convinces her to disappear into the Mother Baby Home where she can deliver her child in secrecy and give him up for adoption.

A decade later, haunted by her guilt and a sense that she and her husband are growing apart, Marian searches for what has become of their son. The search leads to a corrupt system of orphanages and industrial schools for boys, where fear and humiliation are used to force the children into submission.

Gripping, cinematic, and told with a poet’s touch, THE WHIPPING CLUB shows us the consequences of silence, of good people standing by, and of unchecked power. Ultimately, however, this is a story of survival, redemption, and the courage that is born of love. One of my favorite reads of the decade! Seriously.


Hope to see some of you this month in Orlando, Florida and Portland, Maine!


UP FROM THE BLUE makes the Top 10 of 2010!

by Susan Henderson on December 9, 2010

Was doing errands all morning and came back to a flood of emails about my book making the Top 10 Books of 2010 list.

Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson (Harper Paperbacks). As I read this brilliant debut novel, I kept thinking that if I was still working on a bookstore sales floor, I could handsell a bunch (bookseller shorthand for dozens, maybe hundreds) of copies. “You have got to read this,” I would say, like an incantation. –Robert Gray, Shelf Awareness

So grateful to everyone who blogged about the book or told a friend or posted a review on Amazon or gave it as a gift. Means more than you can know.