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Chicago independent bookstores unfazed by Amazon’s early release of ‘The Testaments’

Monday was the official release date of the sequel to Margaret Atwood’s wildly popular novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But last week, Amazon sent some U.S. customers copies of the book early, later calling it a ‘technical glitch.’

Margaret Atwood’s new book release of “The Testaments” attracted crowds to local independent bookstores Monday night even after online retailer Amazon last week mistakenly sent some U.S. customers copies of the book early. The company apologized, calling the situation a “technical glitch.”
Mary Norkol/For the Sun-Times

By Mary Norkol

When Jason Smith opened the doors of The Book Table in Oak Park Monday morning, a crowd of eager bookworms awaited him — and Margaret Atwood’s new novel “The Testaments.”

Monday was the official release date of the sequel to Atwood’s wildly popular novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But last week, Amazon sent some U.S. customers copies of the book early. The company apologized, calling the situation a “technical glitch.”

But Smith, who owns The Book Table with his wife, hardly batted an eye at the scandal. He said issues with Amazon have increased since The Book Table opened in 2003, but he tries not to pay them much thought.

“In theory, I like to think I spend about as much time thinking about (Amazon founder/CEO) Jeff Bezos as he spends thinking about me — which is none, whatsoever,” Smith said, adding it’s impossible to ignore Amazon’s impact on the book industry.

Expected to be one of the store’s top 10 books this fall, Smith said some customers have been vocal about their choice to support an independent bookstore after word of the Amazon breach spread. He didn’t disclose details about the sales of the book but said they were on par with the store’s expectations.

Women and Children First bookstore in Andersonville hosted around 45 people at a midnight release party for Margaret Atwood’s new novel “The Testaments,” the sequel to Atwood’s wildly popular novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Courtesy of Karlee Nussbaum/Women and Children First

Women and Children First in Andersonville has seen a similar trend, according to Director of Operations Jamie Thomas. She said the store’s customers often make a conscious decision to support a local bookstore instead of a corporate giant like Amazon.

“People want to put dollars toward their community,” she said. “The localism movement has definitely hit home with people in our community. People are starting to understand that brick-and-mortar shops do things that Amazon can’t.”

The progressive bookstore, which hosted Atwood as a speaker in 1993 and 2003, hosted around 45 people at a midnight release party — its first since the “Harry Potter” series more than ten years ago.

This party took a much different tone than past release parties, intended to be both literary and political, according to Women and Children First co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck.

Jen Cullerton Johnson, a Chicago-based children’s book author, attended the release party with other members of a Women and Children First book group. She said they discussed political and social differences between when “The Handmaid’s Tale” was released and now.

Johnson described the Amazon breach as “horrific” and described independent bookstores as the “bread and butter” of the literature world.

“True lovers of literature can’t be stopped by a giant like Amazon,” she said.

Stephanie Brinson, an Andersonville resident, bought “The Testaments” at Women and Children First after reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” several times. She said she wanted to patronize the local bookstore even before hearing about the situation with Amazon, adding that she enjoys the staff recommendations dispersed throughout the store.

“There needs to be more local bookstores,” she said. “We should protect them.”