In Brooklyn We Read Books

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Around the country great indie book retailers are dropping left and right, and a huge section of the publishing world is paralyzed with fear, wondering which part of the system will decay next. Meanwhile in Dumbo, there’s a book renaissance brewing and the small press, gallery and independent retail store Melville House is very much at the center of it.

In January of 2008, Melville relocated to Plymouth Street in a sweet-deal move that repositioned them from New York’s Left Bank in Hoboken, where the publishing house got its start, to the Right Bank — Brooklyn. Verso, a venerable radical press, was offered a similar deal and joined Melville in the windy area under the bridge, forming an independent publishing enclave. In just a little over a year they’ve managed to carve a serious niche for themselves in the neighborhood.

Melville defined itself as a press early on with political publications like Who Killed Daniel Pearl, and the post 9-11 anthology What We Do Now, as well as producing cult fiction favorites including Trevor Paglen’s I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me, and Tao Lin’s debut novel Eeeee Eee Eeeee. The move to Dumbo allowed the press to expand its staff, production, and influence — now they’re vertically integrated and host their own book launches and events in a spacious retail storefront that doubles as an art gallery.

In addition to enjoying Verso’s fine company, Melville benefits from what publisher Dennis Loy Johnson calls the “highest density of book activity in New York at the moment.” The burgeoning scene includes nearby publisher and retailer powerHouse, the well-lit and organized used bookstore P.S., the graphic and art bookstore Zakka, literary quarterly N+1, and an outpost of the London Review of Books.

Melville offers a brilliant lunchtime lecture series that gets you mentally stimulated in the space of 40 minutes called, of course, the Ten Minute Lecture Series, which Johnson says will be back sometime this summer. They also host book launches and readings for New York indie houses at the storefront, and are looking to hold more live conversations about books and the industry — to share ideas for how to make bookmaking and selling viable and vibrant for years to come. Readers flock to Melville for more than literature; throughout the year, the walls are decked with art exhibits. The current show, simply titled, “New Work by Peter Sullivan,” will be up until June 4.

Melville’s next big launch party takes place tonight, May 12, at Galapagos, to celebrate Ben Greenman’s new novel, Please Step Back, about the fleeting arc of 60s rock stardom. Fellow New Yorker contributor Sasha Frere-Jones will join Greenman on stage to talk about writing and music. The crowd should be colorful: The first 72 people in the door dressed in sixties-era garb will get a free drink and a free copy of the novel.

Corrections: We originally stated that Melville exhibits art a few times a year, and that Verso press followed Melville to Brooklyn. Also, we made a number of typos, the most memorable being the misspelling of Melville in one instance. After a second cup of coffee, however, we corrected all the errors above.

Sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of Melville House.

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