Oblong Books & Music, named for a once-disputed 2-mile strip of land in the Hudson Valley that Connecticut and New York both claimed, opened its first location in 1975 in Millerton, New York, and its second in 2001 in Rhinebeck. Oblong focuses fully on its communities, especially its younger members. “We carry books on all subjects and are especially proud of our children’s and young adult sections,” said second-generation bookseller and co-owner Suzanna Hermans. “Growing the next generation of readers is a key part of our mission, so we value kid lit just as highly as adult.”
If Oblong Books were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Oh goodness, let’s not use the word religion! How about philosophy? Books open the mind, encourage discussion, stretch and challenge our thoughts and beliefs. They offer escape and entertainment—a moment away from the real world. At Oblong we combine our love of books with our desire to be a good neighbor, to support our fellow small businesses, and be a community gathering place.
How many events do you host?
Right now we do about 120 events a year and love connecting readers and authors. A fair number of those are off-site events—we take any opportunity to bring books out of the bookstore and into our community.
Which was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
I’d have to say my most memorable event (and also our largest) was our book signing with Hillary Clinton for What Happened. The event was just a few weeks before Christmas, our busiest time, and I am relieved to say it was definitely not a disaster but a massive success. Our store is only about 3,500 square feet, but we managed to pass about 1,200 people through the store for the signing in just over three hours. The coordination of this event was a massive undertaking overseen by our unflappable event director, Helen Seslowsky, and involved working with the Secret Service, state and local police, and local businesses. Everyone (including HRC herself!) was amazing—it was an incredible night.
How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community?
In our community, food and farming are big employers as well as drivers of tourism. We’re just 20 minutes from the Culinary Institute of America, and many of their graduates have stayed in the area and opened amazing restaurants. We definitely sell more cookbooks than your average bookstore! We also do very well with nature titles—people come to the Hudson Valley to escape the city, and we have lots of books to help them bring the country back home with them.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
Kids want diverse books! It’s so wonderful to see all kinds of kids gravitating toward books featuring characters of color and LGBTQ characters. Things have changed so much in the 12-plus years I’ve been in bookselling full time. We are still raising readers, but now they are reading books about all kinds of people, not just white kids.
What are your favorite handsells?
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is the best book I read last year and one of the most memorable books I have ever read. I don’t think I will ever forget the first story in this collection. In 50 years, this book will still be taught in schools. It’s a masterwork. The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi is one of my favorite books to hand to kids who love Rick Riordan. It’s a Muslim Jumanji. Just wonderful!
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.