Loganberry is one of 28 indie bookstores featured in the film
Mason Engel was a senior in college in 2017 and trying to build buzz and sales for his sixth self-published novel when he decided to get off the internet and pound the pavement.
"I was looking for a different way to promote it, and the idea I landed on was to change channels, to get into brick and mortar stores," he says.
He set out to visit 50 indie bookstores in 50 days, hoping to get owners to pick up his book, which was self-pubbed on Amazon. And then he got to Lawrence, Kansas and a bookshop called The Raven.
"It wasn't super far into the trip, only store number eight or 10, but as I was walking up to the shop there was a homemade-looking pamphlet in the window called 'How to Resist Amazon and Why,'
" Engel says. "It was by Danny Caine, the owner of the store. I looked down at the book in my hand, which was exclusively available on Amazon, and started piecing together what should have been obvious about the trip from the start. I'd receive warm wishes and welcomes everywhere I went, and it made me think about how passionate these people are, that they can receive me with joy, and realized it was an industry I wanted to learn more about."
Three years later, Engel again set off on a tour of indie bookstores around the country, but this time he had nothing to sell. He just wanted to learn more about why people should support these local gems in the age of Amazon.
This time he visited 28 bookstores — including Loganberry in Cleveland — in 17 days with a camera guy along for the ride. On the other side of that trip is The Bookstour, a 30-minute documentary that answers that initial question and more.
"We have so many options with everything, not just books," Engel says. "Anytime I can outsource a decision to an expert, I do, because that's their full-time gig. If there was a toilet paper guy at Target, I'd consult him. The Amazon algorithm is effective in a similar way to an expert opinion, but as someone said, it's showing you your past and projecting that past into the future. Indie bookstores and their staffs can help you create a future."
That personal interaction, that trust in what your local bookseller can help you discover, is a large part of what makes people choose their indie bookstore over Amazon, but as Engel documents, there's more, most of which will be intimately familiar to bookstore lovers — the ability to spend time browsing, reading, connecting, the activated spaces that bring together booklovers and musicians and authors, the opportunities to talk and exchange ideas.
"Some people balk at the idea of in-person shopping. They say they just want to buy a book, so they're just gonna buy a book. When they walk into a carpet store on main street, they're not looking to make a friend, so why should a book be different," Engel says. "The answer is in the nature of what a book is. It's a story. It's one giant exercise in empathy, and to enjoy it we have to inhabit the minds and bodies of characters. In a product so reliant on connecting people in a deep way, it juts seems antithetical to exchange and acquire those products through a faceless, anonymous website."
Loganberry was the second-to-last store Engel visited on his trip, and it came at a point when he was, naturally, exhausted.
"We'd been sleeping five hours a night and constantly driving but we got there and it was just a great reminder at the end of the trip why we were doing it in the first place," says Engel, who gushed about the beauty of the store and the staff's friendliness.
You can watch the trailer below and learn more on The Bookstour's website
And, as always, here's our list of the indie bookstores around Cleveland you should be supporting.
The Bookstour - Trailer from Mason Engel on Vimeo.