Wheeling Around the Lower East Side with ‘Common Books’ [INTERVIEW]
There is something to be said for a well-loved book, and area local Brittany Bond recently started a mobile book business to deliver just that. Common Books is a pushcart typically stationed by Seward Park that offers paperbacks with a focus on female authors. We caught up with Bond to hear more about her unique adventures in peddling and ongoing love affair with the written word.
Bowery Boogie: What gave you the idea to start peddling a book cart around the Lower East Side?
Brittany Bond: I’ve always sought out jobs that allow me to sit and read. In the past, that’s included: barista, nanny (nap times are magic), a brief stint as a fitness coach at a failing gym. Now that I have a two-year-old, I need a job where I can read and take her with me. The cart fits both of those needs perfectly! I started selling books on my Instagram about a year before I took the book cart out for the first time, but now I can display all the covers together and let people actually feel the satisfying flop of the pages. New York City, and the Lower East Side specifically, has a rich history of street peddling and it is a privilege to have a small part in that now.
BB: Does your daughter have a favorite book cover in the collection you’re selling? Do you?
Bond: I’m not sure if she does … there was a Pearl S. Buck book that I’d frequently glance over and see she’d pulled out. I think she was drawn to its smallness. That, or Particularly Cats by Doris Lessing. And any future book I acquire that has a cat on it.
I love so many covers … and passionately hate so many others. I’m particularly drawn to mass market paperbacks designed in the ’60s and ’70s. For their size (so pocketable!) and fonts and colors. Some of my very favorite covers and editions: Journal of Solitude by May Sarton, 1977, The Needle’s Eye by Margaret Drabble, also 1977, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, 1987 (the blue edition), The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, 1973, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, 1978 (the silver rainbow edition).
Photo: Common Books
BB: What are you currently reading?
Bond: Surge by Etel Adnan and The War Between the Tates by Alison Lurie (I was drawn to its trashy looking cover. I have a theory that’s held up for me quite well so far, that countless female writers are obscured and overlooked by trashy covers, and I’ve come to actually quite like the looks of them now, too!)
BB: Favorite book as an adult? What is your daughter’s favorite book?
Bond: I’m not sure this is a fair question to pose to a bookseller! Currently, I usually cop out and say the writers whose bodies of work I go back to most: Doris Lessing and Madeleine L’Engle (her books for adults, specifically, although I do love her coming of age book, Camilla).
My daughter’s current favorites are probably the Mog books by Judith Kerr (when she’s having one of those inevitably rush hour timed subway meltdowns, songs do not calm her like they would most children, she’s only calmed by me reciting Mog the Forgetful Cat.)
BB: How has the response been to your book cart in these wintry months?
Bond: Surprisingly good! I wanted to start in dead of winter because (a) I like the storybook-ish quality to New York City in the winter and because (b) I didn’t necessarily want a ton of customers while I was figuring it all out. But I’ve had such a lovely steady stream of bookish people from pretty much day one. There was one particular afternoon a few weeks ago when there were five or six people gathered around the cart, their new-to-them books in hand, all eagerly flipping through them, showing each other marginalia and inscriptions and generally talking books to total strangers! It was such a beautiful, communal moment, and exactly what I had hoped for. I think that feeling will just grow with the coming spring. I would love the cart to be a place people come to simply talk books, even if they don’t particularly need a new book.
BB: Why do you specialize in female authors?
Bond: I alluded to this already, but I’ve noticed that when people see a book by a female writer that they don’t recognize, they automatically assume the book is just “fluff,” trash, or a romance novel. And I’m tired of that! I want to be able to read my obscure female writers and not have my intelligence doubted or taste belittled. Part of this is due to publishing houses’ marketing, but at the root of even that is systemic sexism. There will always be people who dismiss a bookseller who only sells female authors (in paperback editions, nonetheless), but I hope that more people will notice the careful curation and, perhaps drawn in by a Woolf or an Austen, branch out to a writer or poet they’ve never heard of before.
BB: Has anyone asked you to keep an eye out for a copy of a book you may not have?
Bond: Yes! Special orders were something I did a lot of when I just had the Instagram shop, and I have continued to do them with the cart. I really love hunting down a specific edition, and I’m pretty good at it. I also love hearing why people want whatever edition they are looking for.
BB: Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share since starting Common Books?
Bond: One of the craziest coincidences happened a few weeks ago. Two customers came by the cart and told me they’d heard about it from a lady at the Sundance Film Festival. When she heard where they were from, she exclaimed, “you live in New York City and you don’t follow Common Books?!” (the book cart has at best a few hundred followers—there is absolutely no reason they should have heard of it!!). What’s more, she’s from an island in Washington near where I grew up and works at a knitting store my mom frequents. The crazy thing? My mom hadn’t told her about the cart. She’d found it completely independently and didn’t even know I was from Washington.