Friday, October 05, 2007

A Quarter Century--Whew!--And Counting

from James Grippando

Jackie is doing research in France, and you're stuck with me--so I thought I'd start with a premise that we can all agree on.

Everyone should have a favorite neighborhood bookstore.

I sure do. It’s been the same one for the past 25 years: Books & Books in Coral Gables, still owned by the man who founded it, Mitchell Kaplan (the same man, incidentally, who partnered up with Miami Dade Community College and others to create the Miami Book Fair International, now one of the premiere book events in the world).

That an independent bookstore can survive in today’s market is an accomplishment. The fact that it can flourish is truly astonishing. That is one of the reasons there is a huge celebration planned in Miami next week for the 25th anniversary of Books & Books. It all comes to a head on Saturday, October 13 at Miami Beach Regional Library, where readers, librarians, members of the media, and every writer within striking distance of Miami will converge to celebrate something that seems to be a rarity these days: a bookseller who is actually a book lover.

Books & Books is a special place for me. Stop One on the tour for every single one of my novels has been Books & Books. Last fall, when I launched Leapholes, my young adult novel, we had a packed house of 200 people—a huge crowd for me. Every chair was taken, people were standing in the aisles, more were sitting outside in the courtyard and enjoying good wine while listening on audio. Kids crowded onto the floor in front of me. My own children were there, too, still young enough to think that their dad is cool.

That event stands out for me because the audience was mostly parents with their children. As I walked out to greet the crowd, I felt this impulse to say something about the experience of coming to a bookstore. I was suddenly thinking how sad it makes me whenever I go on book tour across the country and I discover another great city that no longer has a great independent bookstore. I wondered how many of the children in that audience would have the opportunity to bring their children to a bookstore like Books & Books. I shared those sentiments and finished with a line that made them laugh, but that came from the heart:

“We are headed for a world where the entire book-buying experience has been reduced to clicking on a mouse and reading some review written by a crabby old man who wrote it while sitting around in his underwear.”

Don’t get me wrong. On-line book buying has its place. I do it. Even Books & Books sells books on line. But buying books should be an experience. And there is none better than Books & Books.

As the big party approaches, I’ve been thinking about my own experiences at Books & Books. I'll share one more with you. September 1994 marked my debut as a published author, a good ten years after I had started visiting Mitchell Kaplan at Books & Books. I don't remember everything about my first pub date, but even fifteen novels later, there is one thing I know I'll never forget.

It was a sunny south Florida afternoon. I got in my red convertible (which has since been traded in for three kids and an SUV) and drove to my favorite bookstore in the heart of Coral Gables. I'd been going there for years to browse and dream. This time, however I walked right up to New Fiction, pulled THE PARDON off the shelf and plopped it on the counter.

To my disappointment, it happened to be one of those rare times that Mitchell wasn’t in the store. I made the best of things.

"That's my book, you know," I told the sales clerk.

She looked at me quizzically. "Yes, it is once you've paid for it."

Part of me wanted to pull out my driver’s license, tell her to compare the names, and insist NO, REALLY --- IT'S MY BOOK, I WROTE THIS THING! Instead, I just chuckled to myself and paid her in cash. "Best twenty-three dollars I've ever spent," I said.

She pointed with a nod to the book on the counter. "James Gri . . . Grippa . . . Grippa-na-nando. Never heard of him. Any good?"

"No," I said. "Just lucky."

I still feel lucky—not just to be a published author, but to live in city with one of the greatest bookstores in the world. And you can bet on this: twenty-five years of Books & Books didn’t happen out of luck. Congratulations to Mithcell and the entire team who have worked so hard to make Books & Books my special place.

And by the way, it’s no accident that the bookstore owner in one of my favorite Jack Swyteck novels, Last to Die, reminds many readers of Mitchell Kaplan!

James Grippando

P.S. Jackie will be naked again next week in her regular spot.


  1. James! You're hard to find today!

    I was pleased to go back to my own hometown, and find that an independent bookseller had opened. To my knowledge, Muscatine had never had a true bookstore, other than the chain store in the mall through the early nineties. So it was much to my pleasure not only to discover the shop in a restored, historic structure downtown, but to find my old junior college advisor and his wife as proprietors of Muscatine Books and More. Long may they thrive!

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  3. Oh yeah...

    And I see that the owner, Tom Savage, has had his own book published--A Dictionary of Iowa Place Names

    Congrats, Tom!

  4. Jeff, thanks for your great detective work. Jim is now in his proper place at the top of the page. We Angelenos are lucky to have several independent bookstores, including my neighborhood store, The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood with the fabulous Linda and Bobby and the rest of the crew. You can find them at

  5. All the independent bookstore have disappeared in my county and I have mourned the loss. My secret desire? To own one . . . a home bookstore that welcomes the reader inside and to sit down and stay awhile. Some day - it is clear though, that the money won't come from the books I've published. At least not right now anyway!

  6. Alas...I USE to own an independent bookstore and I just could not compete with the chains and the internet. I did have customers come in to get the name of a book (and the great service) they wanted so that it could be ordered online. Who can blame them when the price was significantly lower. I just wish that the wholesalers would have sold to me at the prices they gave to the big stores. Oh well, I pray that the independents don't totally disappear like the hardware stores.

  7. I did my second signing at Books & Books. The first was at the long-deceased Bookworks on Red Road in South Miami.

    Mitchell Kaplan's vision and hard work has paid off. Books & Books is nationally famous. Heck, just surviving should make an independent famous. He's the driving force behind the mammoth Miami Book Fair International (which took an ad today in the L.A. Times Book Review).

    And it was Mitchell who told me in 1990, upon the publication of "To Speak for the Dead" that I could make a living at this.

    So I credit Mitchell for making me what I am today....which is unemployed.