"Flash Mob" Event Planned for Independent Bookstores Across U.S.

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Two-Minute Nationwide Reading to Celebrate Diversity of Voices, Counter "Homogenization" by Large Corporate Booksellers.

Get ready for the "Bookstore Mob Project." At 2 p.m. Eastern Time (11 a.m. Pacific) on Saturday, October 1, independent bookstores across the U.S. will be the setting of a boisterous celebration to show support for locally owned and operated booksellers.

Precisely at that moment, "flash mobs" will descend on indie bookstores everywhere, open their favorite books (or random ones), and read aloud simultaneously for two minutes, symbolizing the immense variety of voices that can be found in America's hometown bookshops.

The cacophony is meant to be heard -- if only in spirit -- by the large corporate booksellers that have threatened the survival of many local bookstores while at the same time homogenizing the nation's reading habits.

Larry Portzline, a Harrisburg, PA writer and educator, conceived the Bookstore Mob Project as a way to raise awareness about the "David and Goliath" competition between small booksellers and corporate behemoths like Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. He also created the well-received "Bookstore Tourism" concept in 2003 to promote independent bookshops as a group travel destination, taking busloads of bibliophiles on "bookstore road trips" to other cities and writing a how-to guide on the topic.

Portzline said the grassroots event coincides with the last day of this year's Banned Books Week (September 24–October 1), observed by libraries and bookstores nationwide.

"This day is fitting since banned books aren't just those that have been censored by schools or yanked from library shelves; they're also the ones that are ignored by the chain stores because they don't sell enough, don't conform enough, or don't get the right reviews -- the kind of books, in fact, that you can usually find only at indie bookshops," Portzline said. For this reason, Portzline is also proposing that the Bookstore Mob Project become an annual event on the final day of Banned Books Week.

The flash mob concept grew out of a recent cultural phenomenon in Manhattan -- similar to street theatre -- where large groups of people would congregate in public places for several minutes of absurd yet harmless behavior. In one example, a crowd of 300 seemed to gather spontaneously in the Macy's department store on Fifth Avenue to bow down before a giant animatronic dinosaur, only to disperse shortly afterward. Participants were alerted to flash mob events via e-mails, which were quickly forwarded among circles of friends until hundreds and even thousands of people were notified. The idea was copied in other U.S. cities and in Europe, eventually taking on political overtones when some groups began using it as a form of protest. The fad peaked within a couple of months and faded slightly, but groups around the world still employ the technique at demonstrations, or merely as a type of interactive public entertainment.

Portzline said independent bookstores of all sizes and in all locations are invited to take ownership of the Bookstore Mob Project on October 1 by opening their doors to participants and planning additional activities of their own choosing. Author signings, refreshments and entertainment are just some of the promotions that local booksellers might pursue, perhaps extending the two-minute "flash" event into a full-blown gathering.

"It doesn't matter what people read on October 1 -- fiction, non-fiction, a poem, a play, an essay, anything -- as long as everyone makes their voices heard at the same time in bookstores all across the country," Portzline said. "Some folks may be shy about reading in front of others, but with everyone reading aloud simultaneously, it'll be fun and a little crazy, and completely worth sending the message."

Portzline said booklovers around the U.S. should copy this news release and any other information they read about the bookstore mob project on the Web and forward it to their friends and fellow bibliophiles to alert them and plan which stores to visit. He reiterated that the event will take place at 2 p.m. Eastern, 1 p.m. Central, 12 noon Mountain, and 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

Local media are encouraged to contact independent bookstores in their communities regarding pre-publicity and coverage on the day of the event.

For updates as the event draws closer, visit http://bookstoremobproject.blogspot.com.


Larry Portzline

P.O. Box 6067

Harrisburg, PA 17112




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