Love Letters to Books
“I can’t pass a bookstore without slipping inside, looking for the next book that will burn my hand when I touch its jacket, or hand me over a promissory note of such immense power that it contains the formula that will change everything about me.” — Pat Conroy, My Reading Life
No one loved, cherished, read or collected books with more passion than Pat Conroy. In his lifetime he signed tens of thousands of books to his readers with these simple words: “For the love of books, Pat Conroy.”
It is one of the dangers of human nature to take the good things in life for granted, and among those good-to-great things we may take for granted are our bookstores, publishers and public libraries that work together to bring a glorious multitude of writers’ voices to readers. In a free and vibrant book culture all voices must be heard. Are we foolish to take this abundance for granted?
We invite you to read Brazilian publisher Luiz Schwarcz’s open “love letter to books.” And we also ask that you consider what role you might play to keep the world’s book culture alive. Each time you gift or share a book with a friend, praise a book on your social media, join a book club, or read a book to a child, you become an ambassador for the book culture. And today we need the help of all of you.
Excerpted from Love Letters to Books by Brazilian publisher Luiz Schwarcz:
These are dark days for the book in Brazil. In recent weeks, the two largest bookstore chains in the country filed for a reorganization plan to avoid bankruptcy (the Brazilian equivalent to chapter 11), and leaving enormous liabilities in unmet payments… The book is the only medium that has weathered, worldwide, a sustained process of serious disruption. Not so in Brazil. Here, many towns are about to be left without a single bookstore, and publishers are now faced with the challenge of getting their books out to readers and have to deal with significant accumulated loss.
Publishing houses in Brazil have already been launching fewer new titles, dropping slow-sellers from their immediate plans, and letting staff go. With Cultura and Saraiva going into receivership, dozens of stores have been closed, hundreds of booksellers laid off and publisher’s revenues slashed by 40% or more, leaving a massive hole that threatens to engulf the publishing market in Brazil.
Companhia das Letras has felt this on its own skin… for the first time in 32 years, I had to let go six employees who had been part of Companhia for a long time and had made vital contributions to what we’ve been building day after day. A publishing house that had always been able to understand people in their diversity, see the best in each and base its actions more on a sense of shared harmony than on the crunched numbers of individual productivity, found itself having to manage its expense base, in other words, cut costs. At a meeting held to explain the reasons for that sad and new reality, a collaborator asked me if redundancies would be limited to those six alone. With sincerity and a crack in my voice, I told her that I had no way of guaranteeing that.
I write this open letter to ask one and all—publishers, booksellers and authors— to join together in the search for creative and idealistic solutions. The solidarity networks that formed during the electoral campaign are perhaps a good example of what could be done for the book today. Letters, Whatsapp messages, emails, social media posts and videos, produced with sincerity and an open heart, rallying around fellow bookworld stakeholders, especially its more fragile players, are more than just welcome now: they are indispensable. What we need at this juncture, among other things, are love letters to books.
For those of you who, like me, nurture a love of books as your very reason for being, I ask you to spread this call, urge others to buy books this holiday season; books by your favorite authors, and by new authors you’ve been meaning to explore. Buy them at those bookstores that are heroically riding this crisis out, honoring their commitments, but also at those that have fallen on hard times, and who need our help to muddle through. Most of all, promote books by the smaller publishing houses that need to sell today to continue to exist tomorrow. Think of the humanist publishers that defend diversity, not just of races, genders, creeds and ideals, but also of books with different commercial ambitions, from the modest to the bold. Books of all shapes and sizes need to survive. Spare a thought for how life would be without minority books, and I don’t just mean in terms of print runs, but of the causes they defend. Niche books are as important as any bestseller. Consider those publishers struggling to get by on scant resources, because they may not be there the next time you look for them. Every publishing house and bookstore that closes its doors shuts many more in our intellectual and emotional lives.
Gifting books today is about more than supporting a cornerstone of society in the fight for a more just world, saving a small publishing house or some jobs at one of the larger firms. What it’s really about is extending a lifeline to bookstores worldwide and showing a little love for something that has given us so much for so long: the book.
Now this from our agency:
You may also want to consider a donation to the Pat Conroy Literary Center or to any of the many fine nonprofit organizations that support reading, writing or literacy. Even small donations can make a difference! But again: Buy a book from your local bookstore; gift a book!
Pat Conroy’s praise of magnificent books and English teachers:
“I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language. ”
Marly Rusoff and Mihai Radulescu