Thursday, April 18, 2024

Porter Square Books won 2020 Bookstore of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly while empty of customers during a coronavirus shutdown. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Porter Square Books has gone the extra mile to keep in touch with customers during coronavirus quarantining. Staff members produce the store’s “daily-ish” newsletter, “The Shelf Stable,” which gives the scoop on the store’s latest social media updates, book recommendations, featured authors and more (a children’s version is available.) and have been live-streaming events such as a “Bedtime Stories” series (8:45 p.m. most nights), when viewers can enjoy the comfort of being read to through their computer screens.

On the store website, “special social distancing items” such as puzzles and board games can be ordered online for as long as quarantine lasts. And readers may appreciate the “Virtual Bookseller,” online book recommendation service, which gives personalized suggestions to readers who fill out criteria such as their age, hobbies, preferred genres and favorite and/or disliked books. Porter Square Books’ Josh Cook talked about some of the ways the store has adapted to the coronavirus crisis and is connecting with its reader base. The conversation has been condensed and edited for publication.

Josh Cook

So far you’ve been responding to the crisis with livestreamed events such as “Poetry Karaoke” readings, the “Bedtime Stories” series and “PSB Cribs,” where we see the staff’s bookshelves at home. What else is coming?

We’re planning on virtual events with authors. We’ve got one scheduled with Jennifer Finney Boylan for her book “Good Boy” and a few others that are almost but not quite ready to be announced. In general, we’re encouraged to be creative in our social media, to have fun, to experiment, to try new things, so when social distancing shut down the store, we had a kind of store culture that already encouraged coming up with ways to connect with people. We thought about how books are important in our lives (poetry, bedtime stories) and what our readers might be interested in (“PSB Cribs”) and about finding ways for our community to just see our faces and hear our voices. It’s not the same as a visit to the store, but it’s the best we can do at the moment.

How long do you plan to continue the “Shelf Stable” newsletter and the various livestreams? Could it continue beyond the quarantine?

I think one of the hopes of every crisis is that you can continue to use the solutions or even just coping mechanisms after the crisis is over, to raise the standard of normal. I don’t think we’re close to knowing what solutions we are going to carry over into post-Covid-19, if for no other reason than we really have no idea how much time we’ll have to keep making things. “Shelf Stable” is pretty time consuming. That said, streaming events or hosting hybrid events increases accessibility to those events, and we’ve conversed many times over the years about the best type of newsletter for the store. I can say without a doubt that some things will change, even if I can’t be certain right now what those changes will be.

Congratulations on being named 2020 Bookstore of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly! How has it been winning the title during this chaotic time?

Thank you! It’s been weird. On the one hand, we’ve received this amazing validation, not just in winning Bookstore of the Year, but in the support we’ve seen through online purchases and on social media. Those two things have shown that we have become vital to our community, and you can’t ask for anything better than that. But how can you celebrate when you don’t know how long this will last, when you don’t know what and who are going to make it to the end? It is important to find joy when you can and celebrate when you can, and we did, but, at the same time we knew and know this would feel entirely different if we weren’t in this crisis.

Any other thoughts or advice for readers you’d like to add?

My advice to readers: There is no wrong way to read. That’s true in normal times, but I think that’s especially true now. The book doesn’t care if you flip through a couple of pages and then put it down, if you can’t seem to read it right now, if you’re spending more time on jigsaw puzzles or sourdough starters or making face masks. What matters is what you get out of reading when you do. Books are patient. They’ll be there for you whenever you get back to them.