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17 Surprising Indie Bookstore Best Sellers

Photo: Retailers

When we asked booksellers at independent bookstores throughout the city which titles have been selling well in their online stores, we were able to guess several of their answers (correctly) in advance: Alison Roman’s cookbooks, The Power Broker (now that people have the time to take on the nearly 1,500-page biography), and Ling Ma’s Severance (says Davi Marra, the buyer at WORD Bookstores: “A couple of months ago, we were inundated with requests for this paperback that had been out for nearly a year. Then we learned that it’s about a millennial woman who has isolated herself in a Manhattan office building while a plague rages outside”). While those are all worthy quarantine reads, we were curious to hear about the books that have become unexpectedly popular over the past couple of months — the sleeper hits and backlist best sellers. Below are some of these books, as recommended by booksellers from Three Lives & Company, McNally Jackson, the Albertine bookshop, and other local bookstores.



“The new Lily King book Writers & Lovers has been very popular,” says Miriam Chotiner-Gardner, a bookseller at Three Lives & Co. “It’s the perfect book for right now because it’s totally immersive, quick, and an engaging story that takes you away from the feeling of now.” The novel centers on a writer in her early 30s living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who is dealing with the recent death of her mother and working a mediocre restaurant job. “She meets two men she’s interested in — one is a fellow writing student and one is a writing professor, and she is deciding who she has feelings for,” says Chotiner-Gardner. “So it’s sort of a coming-of age story and a becoming-a-writer story and it goes down easily. I think it’s hitting the sweet spot for what people want their heads in right now.”

Over at 192 Books, novels by 20th century German-speaking Swiss author Robert Walser have been selling well. “It may be the relatively compact size of these, and the alluring cover designs — but I’m frankly still not totally sure why so many people have been buying Walser’s (relative) back catalogue,” says Evan Dent, manager of the store. “Most people start with Jakob Von Gunten or a collection of his stories — both are incredible books, though I’d say I prefer his 1908 novel The Assistant.”

“This is another strangely popular novel,” says Dent of Heike Geissler’s Seasonal Associate. “It’s about the draining effects of work culture and capitalism in general.” Dent speculates that the handsome Gerhard Richter cover helps, and that it may have become popular by word of mouth. And it’s topical subject matter: “It aptly describes the mind-numbing experience of working at an Amazon fulfillment center,” Dent says. [Editor’s note: To order from 192 Books, visit their website or email]