Valley News – Out & About: 3 Upper Valley bookstores venture off the page with a podcast

When Emma Nichols and Sam Kaas took over the Norwich bookshop last June, they found strength in their neighbours.

“The fact that there are also two other vibrant and healthy independent bookstores in the community was a huge selling point for us in terms of ‘This is a community that can support this, that wants a thriving literary culture’ and that ‘is that there’s a strength not just in numbers, but in diversity,” Kaas said of Still North Books & Bar in Hanover and Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock.

They also found friendship – and collaboration – in Allie Levy, who opened Still North three months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Kari Meutsch and Kristian Preylowski who became owners of Yankee Bookshop in 2017. .

Now those connections are on full display in a podcast called Shelf Help which is hosted by Lisa Christie, one of the founders of the non-profit organization Book Jam, and produced by CATV as part of their new podcast program. The first episode premiered on April 5; the 13th episode on July 5. Each episode is 11-19 minutes long and most revolve around a question posed by a reader. It can be streamed on the CATV website, as well as Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The idea was proposed by Christie, who co-founded Book Jam with Lisa Cadow in 2010 when they both worked as booksellers at the Norwich Bookshop. They originally started with their own podcast, but it didn’t really take off.

“We kind of did it for fun and found that people weren’t really listening, but they were reading our articles on podcasts,” Christie said. They turned to a blog and organized events throughout the Upper Valley, such as “Pages in the Pub” which brings people together to discuss books. When Christie heard about CATV’s podcast program, she thought it would be a good time to try again and contacted all three stores.

“The idea of ​​having three very close bookstores collaborating on something and not being competitive and just discussing books seemed really cool to me,” Levy said. “Plus, I was just excited to be able to spend a little more time with Sam and Emma and Kari and Kristian.”

It was also a welcome opening for Meutsch, who had an interest in being on a podcast but acknowledged that it would be difficult for her and Preylowski to do it alone.

Content-wise, some episodes revolve around a topic like poetry, for National Poetry Month in April or Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Other episodes focus on a question submitted by a reader, such as a reader looking for middle-aged novels or another from a first-grade teacher looking for graphic novels to share with their students.

“Then we each give one recommendation — or three if we can’t help ourselves,” Levy said.

The group meets once a month at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction to tape four episodes, which usually takes about two hours. They review questions ahead of time to make recommendations, though it’s not uncommon for booksellers to change their minds when they hear others’ suggestions.

Originally, the plan was for episodes to be split between bookstores, each tackling a different topic on different episodes. That changed after the band recorded the first episode and booksellers introduced themselves talking about their favorite books.

“They enjoyed doing this so much they said, ‘Let’s make it all of us every time,'” Christie said.

There’s also something different about getting recommendations from people in your community versus an online algorithm or an anonymous review on Amazon, Christie said. In Episode 7, for example, Levy recommended unlikely animals by Annie Hartnett, which takes place in a fictional version of an Upper Valley town.

“I think it’s a great vehicle for…bringing the magic of talking about books to a wider audience,” Kaas said. “The podcast is just a great medium for that, and I’ve heard from a lot of people that they love to hear our enthusiasm for the books.”

Shelf Help is also part of CATV’s plan for its podcast pilot program, launched this year, which involves training community members to produce their own podcasts on Upper Valley topics. Another podcast, Intersections, discusses the diversity and community-seeking experiences in the region.

“We’re very excited because right off the bat, the big areas of Upper Valley life that we would be interested in, people showed up to do these podcasts,” said CATV executive director Samantha Davidson Green, referring to cultural life, diversity and inclusion. “We have recognized that podcasting is a form that is growing in popularity and provides a platform for people to express or explore ideas or interests for them and it really fulfills our community access mission to create new platforms. for various local voices.”

Podcasts can also be more accessible to listeners and often take less time to produce than TV programs. They also offer a chance to break the growing share of some media in public attention.

“Honestly, we all struggle with a lot of screen time,” Davidson Green said. “Our lives require a lot of screen time, so you don’t necessarily want to have your eyes glued to a screen more than necessary, but listening is something you can bring with you.”

In some ways, this goes hand in hand with the trends observed by booksellers.

“I think a lot of people have rediscovered the love of reading and the willingness to take time out to read for pleasure,” Kaas said.

The pandemic has also been an opportunity for booksellers to find new ways to work together, whether that’s co-hosting author events or, in the case of Still North and the Norwich bookshop, to restart and extend the local treasure hunt Find Waldo, which encourages children to hunt for tiny cut-outs in the shops of the two municipalities during the month of July.

Yankee, Norwich and Still North also came together for Independent Bookstore Day, which the three stores signed up for with Rena Mosteirin, owner of Left Bank Books, a second-hand bookstore on the corner of Still North in downtown Hanover. Forty-six people participated in the Book Tour, meaning they visited and purchased a book at all four stores on April 30.

“Beyond big events, I often send people to Still North and the Norwich Bookshop when my customers are looking for a book that we don’t have at Left Bank. These stores send customers to the Left Bank,” wrote Mosteirin, who became the store’s owner in July 2020, in an email. “Left Bank only sells used books, so we don’t compete with any of the stores that sell new books.”

All booksellers said they would be willing to explore other collaborative opportunities in the future.

“As an industry, independent booksellers are very supportive of other independent booksellers across the country. It’s the culture of what we do,” Meutsch said. “We all had to fight so hard to continue to exist. You celebrate all the other bookstores that may exist. »

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.

Lucas E. Kelly