Chin Music Press is a book publisher, but we’re also made up of book lovers. So when I went to New York last week with CMP publicist Maddy Burton, I couldn’t help but make a detour to an indie bookstore. I loved it so much I thought I’d take the Chin Music Press friends along for the ride with this profile: it’s Spoonbill & Sugartown!
When I climbed out of the L train into Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the sky opened onto a sunny Monday morning. Spoonbill & Sugartown is on the ground floor of a brownstone, and I reached them just as they were rolling up their security door and carrying tables of books out to the sidewalk.
As soon as I walked in, I found myself by a shelf of books about New York. I was viciously grateful to see The Power Broker, a teardown of one of the most powerful public-works architects in American history, who (among other things) blasted expressways through formerly residential New York neighborhoods and manufactured a beach. While I was there, one of the booksellers walked out of a back area with a copy of a book by Jane Jacobs, a writer who’s had a HUGE effect on urban studies. Having read some peripheral books about Jacobs, Moses, and New York City, it was unreal to see the names coming back at the epicenter of their influences.
I did eventually peel myself away from the NYC shelf, only to get stuck pretty quickly on another specialized treasure trove. And another. And another. Books about music. Art books. Design books. Books filled with very beautiful, very detailed, often very specialized colors and fonts and diagrams. The graphics manuals for NASA and the New York City Transit Authority, for goodness’s sake! I love books like this when I’m browsing—it’s nice, when your eyes start to glaze over at all of the titles and covers and spines of a good bookstore, to be able to flip something open and appreciate some part of its beauty right then and there. No reading required. Strange thing for a bookworm to say, maybe, but take it from me: a design book can be as good as a power nap.
As I thumbed through the art book section, I happened upon a book with a cover like the top of a granola bar box, with one of those serrated-cardboard tabs that had already been mostly pulled. It was apparently a write-up of an art exhibit called Descartes’ Daughter. I bought it, and I may eventually even read it, but honestly I think it’s worth it just for the design. I’ve never seen anything like it!
With my rare find tucked under my arm, I dug into the rest of the S&S showroom. It’s laid out in a big L, with the register on the outside of the bend. Down the first big stretch, there’s an island with a ton of great fiction and nonfiction—much of it from indie presses, from what I could tell. There, I found novels like A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass (which I’ve been wanting to read) alongside some fairly hardcore theory and philosophy in the mix—I ended up picking up Manifestly Haraway, a book of posthumanist essays covering everything from cyborgs to animal studies to socialist feminism. I’ve never read a posthumanist essay before, but I have a thing for unexpected combinations. Plus I am possessed by a special kind of madness in bookstores. I don’t think I can justify my purchase beyond that.
As I rounded the bend, I even saw a Chin Music Press favorite: Ice Cream Work! The book is a colorful tale of an ice cream man (man made of ice cream) evaluating his job prospects, and if a premise like that isn’t enough to make you love it, the colored-sand art should be. We stock it in the CMP showroom, and I think everyone in the office has bought multiple copies as gifts. I think I may have even freaked out the Spoonbill & Sugartown staff with my enthusiasm for this bizarre picture book. I think part of it was seeing something that I see every day, something from the Pacific Northwest, something strange and hard to describe finding a home all the way in a little store in Brooklyn.
That’s the mark of a great bookstore, I think: making you feel like you’re home. I can praise Spoonbill & Sugartown’s selection, both broad and deep; I can praise its light, open layout; I can praise its staff, friendly even as I gushed about an ice cream man being paid to lay beside a piece of cake; but none of that quite captures this simple fact: Spoonbill & Sugartown makes readers feel at home.