The cynical among us might suspect that any author who opens his or her own bookstore might be motivated, in part, by the comfort of having a guaranteed outlet for the sales of their own works. But that would be harsh judgment indeed, because it turns out there are many highly successful writers who have no trouble hitting the best-seller lists and are devoted to also shining a light on the works of their fellow literary scribes.

A leisurely hourlong dive into a search machine turns them up by the dozens, and they are in business all over the country (and doubtless many places elsewhere in the world.)

Among the most famous and long-lived are the late “Lonesome Dove” novelist Larry McMurtry, who ran his Booked Up store in his native Archer City, Texas, from 1986 until his death in March of 2021 at age 84, and the much-celebrated poet and memoirist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who turned the City Lights store he co-founded in 1953 into San Francisco’s famed literary mecca and publishing hub and stayed intimately involved with it until his death, also two years ago.

Among the living authors who are plying the trade, one of most prominent is National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich, the “Round House” and “Love Medicine” author who opened her Birchbark Books store in 2001 in Minneapolis,  Minnesota, retaining the wood floor of the former meat market and adding branches from downed birch trees to highlight the decor and lend credence to the name. The store’s full name includes “& Native Arts,” and in addition to specializing in books by Native-American authors (Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa  tribe), it sells beads, baskets, pottery and jewelry fashioned by Native artists of many tribes. The place has a handmade canoe hanging from the ceiling and a former church confessional she converted to a “forgiveness booth” (and all you have to do is touch it to get your free absolution!). Last year, Erdrich gave the New York Times this description of Birchbark: “Our bookstore isn’t sleek or cute — we’re kind of scruffy, in fact. But that’s OK. Bookstores aren’t supposed to be perfect, and neither are writers.” 

Louise Erdrich’s store sells Native American items as well as books. (Courtesy Birchbark Books)

An author of a different stripe entirely who has run a bookstore since 2019 is “Game of Thrones” novelist George R.R. Martin, who converted a hair salon next door to a theater he also owns in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that year to Beastly Books. As you might expect, its stock in trade is “autographed and collectible” tomes in the science fiction and fantasy genres, with one entire corner of the place dedicated to the works of—you guessed it—George R. R. Martin. In 2013, Martin acquired and reopened the Jean Cocteau Cinema, an eclectic arthouse movie place originally opened by a bunch of hippies in the 1970s. When Martin found the theater lobby too cramped to hold all the author events he was planning, he expanded the bookstore and added a coffee bar. While the store also sells Martin merchandise and memorabilia, the thankfully not-quite-life-size statue of the 50-foot-tall Iron Giant from the 1999 movie is eye candy only and not for sale.

“Bel Canto,” “Commonwealth” and, more recently, “The Dutch House” novelist Ann Patchett became the sole owner of Parnassus Books in her native Nashville, Tennessee, last year when her 2011 co-founder, Karen Hayes, retired. It is a small store with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, with its stated mission being to curate a selection of books that people really want to read. Patchett told the Literary Hub site that it is modeled after her favorite childhood bookstore, where the staff “remembered who you were and what you read, even if you were 10.”

Her own store’s name, however, was inspired by a hallowed site in Greek mythology, as Patchett explained to NPR around opening day: “It is that mountain in Greece where literature and music and poetry were born. We are the Athens of the South here in Nashville—we have a full-size replica of the Parthenon. And so we wanted to be part of that great tradition of our city.” A recipient of the National Humanities Medal in March of this year, Patchett left a cheeky post labeled “Ann-ecdotes from the White House” on her blog on the section of the store website she calls “Musing” (presumably because the Greek Muses dwelt on Mount Parnassus). In it, she riffs rather hilariously on the fashions worn and the antics performed by her fellow medal recipients, among them Mindy Kaling, Colson Whitehead, B.J. Novak, Tara Westover, Amy Tan and Bruce Springsteen. She began this particular “musing” with an apology of sorts: “If you find my reflections to be superficial, all I can say is, you didn’t see Mindy Kaling’s shoes, and I did. It’s my job to bear witness and report back.” 

President Joe Biden presents the 2021 National Humanities Medal to Ann Patchett at the National Arts and Humanities Medal Ceremony, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in the East Room of the White House. (Cameron Smith/Official White House Photo via Bay City News)

Acclaimed young adult author Judy Blume, along with her husband, George Cooper, is another purveyor of books, having run Books & Books @The Studios of Key West in their Florida town since 2016. As its name implies, it’s affiliated with the larger Books & Books independent chain in and around Miami founded by Mitchell Kaplan in 1982 and is situated in a nonprofit Art Deco arts center that was once a Masonic temple. Blume, whose best-known novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” from 1970 was just released this spring as a well-received movie, has a cardboard cutout of herself stocking a bookshelf in her store, a gift from her daughter and stepdaughter for her recent 85th birthday. The store also features a “Key West Literary Pantheon,” a ring of some 50 names painted below the ceiling of literary lights with local connections who are no longer living, among them Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Richard Wilbur, Robert Stone, Shel Silverstein and Alison Lurie.  

For many more authors who are heavily involved with their own bookstores, including “Fortress of Solitude” and “Motherless Brooklyn” novelist Jonathan Lethem and “All Adults Here” and “The Vacationers” author Emma Straub, check out

Cristina García’s new novel follows a family through four generations. (Photo courtesy Amazon)

Dreaming again: Berkeley author Cristina García returns to the fractured family she wrote about in her first novel 1992’s “Dreaming in Cuban” for a follow-up novel releasing on July 18 that finds four generations of the Del Pino family in a diaspora that stretches from Cuba and the U.S. to Germany and Russia. “Vanishing Maps” (Knopf, $28, 272 pages) is drawing high praise from many quarters, including this blurb from Oakland author Carolina de Robertis (author of “The President and the Frog”): “Sexy and philosophical, cosmic and intimate, rippling with humor and insight and tenderness, this novel is a wonder and a joy to read.” De Robertis will be on hand to interview García on book release day at a 7 p.m. reading at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley that will include an audience Q&A and a book signing. (Go to to register for the free event.} García has another event at 7 p.m. July 19 at Books Inc. in Palo Alto. 

(Photo courtesy Amazon)
(Photo courtesy Amazon)

Well-told tales coming: Confirmed devotees of the short story have ample reason to smack their lips in mid-July. Two authors celebrated for their expertise in the genre, Ann Beattie and Joyce Carol Oates, will have new anthologies coming out on July 18. Beattie’s “Onlookers” (Scribner, $28, 288 pages), is set in Charlottesville, Virginia, during recent times of unrest over its Confederate monuments and subtly links its disparate characters against that backdrop. “Onlookers” is Beattie’s 24th book, but the incredibly prolific Oates is close to passing 170 publications, counting her novels, plays, poetry, essay and short-story collections and a few she has co-authored or written under a pseudonym. Her latest, “Zero-Sum: Stories” (Knopf, $29, 272 pages), is a collection that explores erotic obsession, vengeance, shifting identities and lethal games played by people in toxic relationships.  

Hooked on Books is a monthly column by Sue Gilmore on current literary buzz and can’t-miss upcoming book events. Look for it here every last Thursday of the month.