cover image Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co.

Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co.

Lynne Tillman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $25 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100425-6

From the moment it opened its doors in 1977 to its final clearance sale in 1997, Jeanette Watson's bookstore on Manhattan's Upper East Side did everything an independent should do. It served as a clearinghouse for serious, often unconventional, titles and as a breeding ground for great readings, and through personal customer-staff relationships it brought a wide range of books to a diverse audience. But Books & Co., unable to survive a skyrocketing real-estate market and rising competition from chains and e-retailers, finally folded after an acrimonious battle with its landlord, the Whitney Museum of Art. ""If the bookstore were going to continue, it would have to be totally changed, computerized, Internetted,"" Watson remarks. ""Books & Co. was like the last nineteenth century bookstore in the twentieth century."" In this fine series of reminiscences from a virtual pageant of New York luminaries, including Brendan Gill, Albert Murray, Susan Sontag, Fran Leibowitz, various store employees and, of course, Watson herself, novelist Tillman (No Lease on Life) recounts how Watson, daughter of IBM CEO Thomas Watson, created a vital literary hub for international glitterati as well as for local residents, Whitney employees, academics and tourists. Presented as oral history, the book condemns the aggressive marketing and pricing tactics of today's superstores, but it's also a celebration of what was a great cultural institution. The only regret is that Books & Co. isn't around to house this title on its vaunted shelves. 8-page spread of b&w photos and lists of Watson's bestsellers and every reading that ever took place in the store. (Oct.)