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Originally published Monday, March 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Recession brings both ups and downs to local bibliophiles

The Recession edition of Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn's weekly Lit Life column. In Seattle, free readings are going gangbusters, but at least one more bookstore — Horizon Books — has closed.

Seattle Times book editor

Lit life |

This week's Lit Life is the Recession edition. The matter at hand: How is the economic downturn affecting Seattle's lit life?

Exhibit A — There's no question that author readings are one of the best deals in town — they're mostly free, and the company is top-drawer. Sure enough, some local bookstores are reporting substantial increases in attendance.

The March 12 reading by radio personality Tavis Smiley at Seattle Public Library, reading from his book "Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise," was SRO: The crowd of 425 exceeded the 375-person capacity of the Microsoft auditorium. Book vendor Elliott Bay Book Co. brought 100 books for sale and ran out (those who missed out can still get a book at Elliott Bay).

Elliott Bay's Karen Maeda Allman says more than 100 people turned out for a March 15 reading of "Slow Money" by Woody Tasch, a book dedicated to investing locally. The University Book Store has also enjoyed an attendance uptick, as has Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Meanwhile, bookseller newsletter Shelf Awareness reports that bookstore sales were up $1 million in January 2009, to $2.3 billion, compared to a 9.8 percent drop in all retail (the book stats include only new books purchased from stores, not used books or online sales).

Exhibit B — The news isn't all good; another used bookstore has closed. Capitol Hill's Horizon Books, which billed itself as the city's oldest used bookstore (38 years), closed its doors on March 15 (the Ides of March, natch). The bookstore plans to continue Internet operations, and will occupy a "browsing space" at 1423 10th. Ave., shared with Recollection Books in a basement located directly below Atlas Clothing (206-523-4217). Still, it was soooo sad to walk by the old house that was Horizon Books' home and see a row of hope-springs-eternal daffodils nodding in front of its picket fence.

Exhibit C — More sad news: Last Tuesday saw the last column of John Marshall, the book critic at the Seattle P-I. Some critics fear and loathe their competition — I mostly felt relief that John was there to share in covering the immense range of Seattle literary offerings. His to-the-point farewell (Ivan Doig really is the "grand gentleman of Northwest letters") is at .

Reading of the week

George Akerlof, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize for economics, is in town tonight to promote his new book, "Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism." See him at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall Seattle ($5; 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle) — it's your chance to ask a Nobel Prize winner what to do about your 401(k).

New release of the week

"The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century" by Steve Coll (Penguin, $18). Just out in paperback, this group biography of Osama bin Laden's extended family was called "riveting" by the über-finicky Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times.

Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING FM's Arts Channel at She can be reached at 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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