Independent Film: Portland Longfellow Books, Stop on Filmed Independent Bookstore Tour


Mason Engel during a stop in “The Bookstour”. Photo courtesy of Mason Engel

If you’re making a high-profile documentary featuring all of the best independent bookstores on the East Coast, you’re going to come to Portland.

Sure enough, first-time writer and filmmaker Mason Engel ended up interviewing the good folks at our own Longfellow Books, one of 50 independent bookstores featured in “The book storeEngel’s 30-minute review of how shopping locally is better than just clicking “Buy Now” on that ubiquitous, brick-and-mortar devouring website.

OK, this is Amazon, the unassuming little book selling site that has grown to devour a shocking amount of the retail landscape over the years and which, as Engel notes, has a devious side to it that most people don’t realize.

“It’s the only way we can do it,” Engel said of the online giant’s stranglehold on the sale and distribution of self-published books like Engel’s sci-fi novel. “2084. While this was a lifeline for writers trying to break into the increasingly competitive publishing world, Amazon’s near monopoly meant that Engel’s initial advertising tour in what has become the multi-year journey of “The Bookstour” was fraught with more than a little awkwardness.

“I was approaching booksellers with a product they couldn’t sell,” Engel said of his original, self-funded blitz to promote “2084” in actual bookstores. “It was a lot of inappropriate commotion.”

Engel simply admits to “showing up without an ad and talking to the first bookseller I’ve seen” in order, as all authors should, to do the hard work of promoting themselves and their work.

“It was a good promotion for me, not so good for relations with the booksellers,” said Engel, who used social media to generate local interest in his work before each appearance.

But the diary and cellphone videos that Engel found himself compelled to make as he interacted with dozens of bookstore owners who, like him, were struggling for survival in the ruthless world of Amazon, have come together. gradually found in Engel’s mind. So the author became a filmmaker as Engel and a trusted cameraman loaded the car and plotted a loop of 50 independent bookstores in 17 long days, headed where the independent spirit and love of books flourished.

Engel chose the East, because the density of the population (and bookstores) made the exhausting (and cost-conscious) trip possible. He chose Longfellow Books by Google searching for “the best independent bookstores” and going cleverly with his instinct that a meaningful name promises a store with “personality and quirk.” This is how “The Bookstour” gradually took shape, ultimately serving as a testament to book lovers of the unique and irreplaceable role that the actual physical bookstore plays in the life of a community.

During our phone conversation, I shared my experience of working at Video port, another beloved Portland independent source for entertainment and edification who ultimately succumbed to the forces of the internet giants, with their double bludgeons of casual convenience and mass marketing. Engel sympathized, while noting how his film introduces the concept of “legacy technologies” to explain why books (unlike Videoport’s beloved DVDs and Blu-rays) have a subtle but important head start when they are released. it is about resisting the online assault.

“The ability and timeliness of physical engagement with the product you buy is essential,” said Engel, whose film includes a cameo appearance by Harvard professor Ryan Raffaelli, who originated the concept of legacy technology. “You have an ongoing relationship with the object. It’s something you have, something you interact with everywhere from the beach to the bath. You mess it up. Places that sell things like that are places people are more willing to support. “

This is an interesting point. And while I wrote at length About my obsession with keeping physical space for my movies on physical media, I had to admit that I also had a lot more library space – and more inclined to manipulate my books. (Engel asked me if I was “cuddling” my DVDs, and I chose not to answer.) Apart from that, “The Bookstour” represents author Engel’s way of giving back to the local institutions that formed his own inevitably practical love of books.

In addition to raising awareness of the still endangered oasis of bibliophile pleasures represented by independent bookstores, all profits from online screenings of “The Bookstour” are donated to Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to bookstores and bookstore workers in need. But it’s in conversations with the booksellers themselves that Engel says “The Bookstour” really serves its purpose.

“They are people of the book,” he said, with obvious admiration, “regardless of the context or the media involved. They have respect and love not only for writers, but also for designers and editors. There is just a general warmth when you go to a bookseller.

You can book an online screening of “The Bookstour”, available from mid-July, on the film’s website, A virtual ticket costs $ 10, with all the money going to the foundation. You can read about Engel’s work on his website (, and, thanks to his efforts to free himself from the clutches of Amazon, buy his novel “2084” at your independent Portland bookstores, like Longfellow Books and To print.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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