You might have noticed that in the last 24 hours Seattle experienced an influx of glasses-wearing literary types. This is not your imagination. It is a real thing. This year, Seattle is home to the American Booksellers Association's annual Winter Institute, a convention that brings hundreds of booksellers and dozens of authors from around the world to schmooze, take bookselling classes, and discuss changes in the industry.
Last night, I attended a party hosted by literary news and review organization Shelf Awareness at Elliott Bay Book Company. The place was packed with 500 booksellers from every state in the union. Busloads upon busloads of booksellers poured into the store as the party went on. Authors like Sherman Alexie and Jonathan Evison mingled with partiers who were lined up at free bars set up in the greeting card and art books sections of the store. I talked with employees and owners of bookstores from all over the place, and the mood in the room was hopeful and happy. Back in 2010, at a gathering like this, if you asked how someone's business was going, the best you could hope for was a grimace and a muttered, "we're getting by." But for many of these booksellers, the dark days seem to be past: From coast to coast, bookstores are not merely surviving, but actually making money. (Small amounts of money, to be fair, but nobody got into the book business to become wealthy.)
The Winter Institute runs through Friday, and booksellers will be celebrating at after-hours parties in venues all around town. If you're out at a bar this week and you happen to meet someone in town for the convention, you should buy them a drink, welcome them to Seattle, and ask them if they've been reading anything good lately. I bet they'll be happy to talk.