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

  • Frances Jahn, 2, left, and her sister Gigi, 4, both of Brooklyn, N.Y., play with a Waldo cutout at a park in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, July 15, 2022. Waldo and his dog Woof can be found at two different parks in Hanover in addition to 32 mini Waldos hidden in local businesses as part of a month-long Find Waldo Local scavenger hunt organized by Still North Books & Bar, Hanover Parks and Recreation and the Norwich Bookstore. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Waldo hides on a shelf at Still North Books & Bar in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, July 15, 2022. Still North partnered with Hanover Parks and Recreation and the Norwich Bookstore to hide 32 mini Waldos in businesses on both sides of the river as part of a month-long Find Waldo Local scavenger hunt. Participants can pick up passports at either book store to track their Waldo discoveries and win prizes. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/16/2022 10:00:52 PM
Modified: 7/16/2022 10:00:27 PM

When Emma Nichols and Sam Kaas took over the Norwich Bookstore last June, they found strength from their neighbors.

“That there were also two other healthy vibrant independent bookstores in the community was a huge selling point for us in terms of ‘This is a community that can support that, that wants a thriving literary culture’ and it’s that there’s a strength in not only numbers, but diversity,” Kaas said about 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 started, and Kari Meutsch and Kristian Preylowski who became the owners of Yankee Bookshop in 2017.

Now, those connections are on full display in a podcast called Shelf Help that is hosted by Lisa Christie, one of the founders of the nonprofit organization Book Jam, and produced by CATV as part of their new podcast program. The first episode premiered April 5; the 13th episode on July 5. Each episode is 11 to 19 minutes long, and most revolve around a question posed by a reader. It can be streamed on CATV’s 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 Bookstore. They originally started with a podcast of their own, but it didn’t really take off.

“We just sort of did it for fun and found people weren’t really listening but they were reading our write-ups around the podcasts,” Christie said. They pivoted to a blog and hosting events throughout the Upper Valley, like “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 reached out to the three stores.

“The idea of having three bookstores all in really close proximity collaborate on something and not being competitive and just getting to chat books sounded really cool to me,” Levy said. “Also I was just excited to get to spend a little bit more time with Sam and Emma and Kari and Kristian.”

It was also a welcome overture for Meutsch, who has had an interest in being on a podcast but recognized it would be difficult for her and Preylowski to do on their own.

As for content, some episodes revolve a topic like poetry, for National Poetry Month in April, or Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Other episodes focus on a reader-submitted question, like a reader who was looking for novels about middle age or another from a first-grade teacher who was looking for graphic novels to share with her students.

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

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

Originally, the plan had been for the episodes to be split among the bookstores, with each addressing a different topic on different episodes. That changed after the group recorded the first episode and the booksellers introduced themselves by talking about their favorite books.

“They enjoyed doing that so much that they said, ‘Let’s just have this be all of us every single time,’ ” Christie said.

There is 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 fictionalized version of an Upper Valley town.

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

Shelf Help also fits in with CATV’s plan for its pilot podcast program, launched this year, which involves training community members to produce their own podcasts about topics in the Upper Valley. Another podcast, Intersections, discusses diversity and experiences finding community in the region.

“We’re very excited because right out of the gate, the big areas of Upper Valley life we’d be curious about, people showed up to make those podcasts,” said Samantha Davidson Green, executive director at CATV, referencing cultural life, diversity and inclusion. “We recognized that podcasting is a form that is growing in popularity and gives people a platform to express or explore ideas or interests to them and it really fulfills our community access mission to create new platforms for diverse local voices.”

Podcasts can also be more accessible for listeners and often take less time to produce that TV programs. They also offer a chance to break up certain media’s increasing share of the audience’s attention.

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

In some ways, that goes hand in hand with trends booksellers are seeing.

“I think a lot of people did rediscover a love of reading and a willingness to make time for reading for pleasure,” Kaas said.

The pandemic also provided an opportunity for the booksellers to come up with new ways to work together, whether it be co-hosting author events or, in the case of Still North and the Norwich Bookstore, restarting and expanding the Find Waldo Local Scavenger Hunt, which encourages children to hunt for tiny cutouts in businesses in the two towns during the month of July.

Yankee, Norwich and Still North also joined together for Independent Bookstore Day, which the three stores signed up with along with Rena Mosteirin, who owns Left Bank Books, a used bookstore around the corner from Still North in downtown Hanover. Forty-six people participated in the book crawl, meaning they visited and purchased a book from all four shops on April 30.

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

All of the booksellers said they’d be open to exploring more opportunities to collaborate in the future.

“As an industry, indie booksellers are very supportive of other indie booksellers, just across the country. It’s the culture of what we do,” Meutsch said. “We’ve all had to fight so hard to continue to exist. You celebrate every single other bookstore that’s able to exist.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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