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  • What to read next? Expanding Catskills bookstore asks celebrities – Albany Times Union

 July 19

by Carolina

Tom Hanks. Chelsea Handler. Questlove. Gabrielle Union. Gloria Steinem.

These celebrities and authors may not intersect in real life, but at Aaron Hicklin’s compact Narrowsburg bookstore in Sullivan County, their personal recommendations are the algorithm that powers his inventory.

Each one of his shelves is lined with the “desert island books” of dozens of famous personalities — specifically, the 10 most influential, memorable titles of their reading history. It’s like the “Staff Picks” section common to all bookstores, only you recognize the person doing the picking. The familiarity makes it more tempting to follow their suggestions, though you are just as likely to question their choices, too. (Lena Dunham chose “Gone with the Wind”?)

“I love bookstores,” said Hicklin, “but I’d often felt that that there was something kind of challenging in the A to Z organizational system, because that really anticipates that you know who you’re looking for.”

Roughly seven years ago, he began thinking of a fresh way to discover books in the data-driven, utilitarian age of Amazon, and drew from his experiences as magazine editor and writer. As the Editor in Chief of Out magazine for over a decade, and most recently Document, a common question he sprinkled into his interviews with authors, actors and public figures was, “What are you reading right now?”

The same question, he realized, could translate into recommendations in the real world, while also offering “a kind of intimacy with that person — like you were discovering something about them through the choices they made.” He envisioned amassing 100 top-10 lists from notable figures — 1,000 total — and the One Grand name was born. He just needed a shop — and not one in New York City.

“Opening a bookstore in New York would be an incredibly different, much more stressful experience. You’d have to be open seven days a week, you’d have to do events every night, you’d have to be open late, have staff.”

In the Catskills, he would be able to segue slowly into being a small-business owner while still working in magazines.

Originally he looked in Livingston Manor and Callicoon, but a friend tipped him off to Narrowsburg, which was near his in-laws’ home and felt especially vibrant.

In August, Hicklin plans to open a Livingston Manor outpost of One Grand, which opened in Narrowsburg in 2015. The pandemic also spurred him to stay at his weekend home in Narrowsburg full-time, and launch a literary magazine, Grand Journal.

In August, Hicklin plans to open a Livingston Manor outpost of One Grand, which opened in Narrowsburg in 2015. The pandemic also spurred him to stay at his weekend home in Narrowsburg full-time, and launch a literary magazine, Grand Journal.

Michael Mundy

“I was sort of smitten almost instantly,” said Hicklin. “I think it helps that I arrived on the day that they had a tree lighting ceremony on Main Street — one of those charming, serendipitous moments you turn up and there’s children singing carols, there’s a tree on a deck overlooking the [Delaware] river, it’s a perfect kind of wintry day. There was probably a little bit of snow, Main Street was all lit up in a pretty way, and I thought I had wandered into some kind of magical fairyland.”

He found an available space and opened on Main Street in 2015, where he had weekend hours to start. Sleeping at his relatives’ home soon became impractical, and a year later, he and his husband purchased a home within walking distance of the store.

It wasn’t until 2020 however, when he lost his editing job in the pandemic, that he was able to make the bookstore his primary business. He also launched a new literary magazine, Grand Journal, and now, rather than return to New York City, he has decided to stay in Narrowsburg full-time and open a second outpost of One Grand this August in Livingston Manor, which he’d originally passed over for the original store.

“One of the things that has been really exciting is seeing, even post-pandemic, how many people are now in the position where they can work remotely or change their working structure,” said Hicklin.

Along with the influx of newcomers, though, he’s also seen some drift back downstate. “I know some people are really excited that the city has been reopening and are ready to dive back in. I have found the opposite … You discover all these things when you’ve lived here for a while, in terms of interesting artists that you can work with and writers, and that’s been my education in the last year — all the things I need to produce an interesting magazine are right here, I don’t need to be in New York for that.”

Enough new businesses in Livingston Manor have opened in the past six years, said Hicklin, to warrant a bookstore, which he sees as a valuable asset in a town, and a reminder of the escapism they offered to him growing up in England.

Said actress Tilda Swinton of her

Said actress Tilda Swinton of her “Great Expectations” pick, featured at One Grand: “Faces you will never forget: and a lesson to treasure all your life: be prepared to be surprised…”

Courtesy One Grand

“The one thing you could always do when you’re a kid, is sit in a bookstore,” said Hicklin. “It was this one place, among all the retail opportunities you get on Main Streets, that invites you to spend time [and] doesn’t anticipate that you’re necessarily going to spend a lot of money, because books are still relatively inexpensive for what you’re getting,” he said.

The new store will be similar to Narrowsburg’s, only with a selection of international and vintage magazines, which will complement his journal. But the curated concept will remain the same. Not only are the celebrity lists a catchy way to recommend books — they have been featured in the New York Times and Vulture and have spawned a new radio show, “Shelf Life,” that will debut soon on Radio Catskill, WJAFF  — it’s a window onto the books that have influenced our own cultural influencers.

One of the most interesting ways this plays out is when people choose the same title. Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates, cultural critic Roxane Gay and writer, TV host and trans activist Janet Mock all chose Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” for various reasons: as a beautiful, period piece romance, its embrace of tragedy, its fine details of wealthy New Yorkers.

“I mean, it may be pure coincidence, but I’m also like, it’s been chosen three times” — all by people of color, two who of whom are LGBT. “So is there something in that story that speaks particularly to someone in the LGBT community, like Janet Mock and Roxane Gay are? I don’t know, but I’m often curious about why these books speak to people … what do the books say about the people that choose them, what are they finding in them that speaks to who they are as well?”

Hudson Valley Art, Music and Culture

Original posted at www.timesunion.com

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