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Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing

Feb 2, 2024

Mark interviews Josh Cook, Josh Cook, an author, bookseller and the co-owner at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has worked since 2004 about his writing, his book The Art of Libromancy and his life as a reader and writer.

Prior to the interview, Mark reads comments from recent episodes, welcomes new patron Jennifer Brinn, thanks Buy Mark a Coffee patron Nikki Guerlain, shares a personal update, and a word about this episode's sponsor.

This episode is sponsored by the books The Art of Libromancy and An Author's Guide to Working with Libraries and Bookstores.

Ask for these books via your local indie-owned bookstore or via your local community library.

In the interview, Mark and Josh talk about:

  • Josh's earliest days really getting into reading and how he had wanted to be a writer since about the age of 16
  • After post-secondary education, landing in Boston and deciding that working in a bookstore would be a good place for a writer to work
  • Discovering the "coming soon" and "help wanted" sign on a neighborhood bookstore: Porter Square Books
  • Continuing to build a freelance writing career, crafting articles, reviews, fiction, and poetry
  • Getting his first manuscript into the hands of a publisher that he knew well from his role in bookselling, which was the novel AN EXAGGERATED MURDER
  • The path, via roles such as Online Presence Manager (website and social media) and Marketing Director that led to eventually becoming a co-owner of Porter Square Books
  • The challenge of the most qualified people to take over owning and running a bookstore, the booksellers, often don't have the necessary money, funding, and resources to do so
  • The model that has become a bit more common recently that enables employees the option of becoming a vested co-owner or interest sharing participant in a bookstore
  • The genesis of the book THE ART OF LIBROMANCY
  • The major reckoning that many people had in 2016 when Donald Trump got elected at trying to understand their place in a world that would allow something like that to happen
  • The concept of how the book industry (publishing, bookselling) would continue to empower and legitimize the voices of misogyny, white supremacy, other bigoted ideas
  • How it all clicked after Josh had participated in a virtual event with Biblioasis author Jorge Carrion for the book AGAINST AMAZON AND OTHER ESSAYS
  • Pitching the book to Biblioasis and how the existing relationship and in-depth knowledge Josh had of their publishing house (and their editor's knowledge of Josh himself) led to an instant acceptance of his book proposal
  • The importance of relationships and recommendations from people that you already know, like, and trust - and how that plays a significant role in book projects
  • Elements of human curation that can happen in person within a community, particularly as something that Amazon can't do
  • The idea of a bookstore as a "third place" that is neither home nor work where someone can go and be a human being with other human beings
  • A few of the challenges, both expected and unexpected, that happened when Porter Square Books had to adapt into an online and curb-side order facility during the pandemic
  • How the learned skills of booksellers being able to absorb information and insights about books from publishers, colleagues, and customers, even if they haven't read them, is such an important aspect of a bookseller's role
  • ARCs (Advance Review Copies) as one of the primary ways Josh has of knowing what is on the way
  • Christopher Morley's THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP and the Melville House edition that Josh first discovered which is a love letter to the art of bookselling
  • How books are great ways to be safely uncomfortable
  • The paradox of tolerance, as expressed by Karl Popper in THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES: If you tolerate the intolerable, your space will eventually become intolerant
  • A bookseller's role within that paradox of allowing tolerance for voices that seek fresh voices, but prevent those voices whose mandate is to shut-down or not allow diverse voices the ability to be expressed
  • Josh's perspective of how publishers, authors, bookstores and others within the industry involved in this process are all teammates working together to get books to readers
  • Strategies authors can use to establish genuine relationships with their local community bookstores
  • And more . . .


After the interview Mark reflects on walking away from fascinating conversations with a list of books to read, some of the parallels between Josh's journey into bookselling and his own, and how the employee-to-owner situation also parallels the change-of-ownerships of Words Worth Books, a local indie bookstore in Waterloo that Mark adores.


Links of Interest:


Josh Cook is a bookseller and co-owner at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has worked since 2004. He is also author of the critically acclaimed postmodern detective novel An Exaggerated Murder and his fiction, criticism, and poetry have appeared in numerous leading literary publications. He grew up in Lewiston, Maine and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


The introductory, end, and bumper music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0