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Mystery Benefactors Buying Up Revolutionary Books to Give Away at Indie Bookstores

Words by Jo Piazza
New Activism
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One independent bookstore in San Francisco is helping inspire intellectual resistance against Donald Trump with a little help from a mysterious benefactor.

Earlier this week 50 copies of George Orwell’s 1984 were purchased from Booksmith, a beloved indie book seller on Haight Street, and then given back to the store to distribute for free to interested readers.

Copies were quickly snatched up. According to the store, just as those books disappeared, a second individual bought the store’s entire stock of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts for giveaways. The store gave the books prominent table space beneath a sign reading: Read Up! Fight Back! A Mysterious Benefactor Has Bought These Books for You If You Need One.

1984, Orwell’s dystopian treatise on a fictional totalitarian government, shot to number one on USA Today’s bestseller list this week. It had reached number one on Amazon after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Handmaid’s Tale is a terrifying satire, written by Atwood in the eighties, that seems all too real in today’s world where women’s rights feel as though they could be systematically dismantled by a small cabal of wealthy, straight white men. It is being adapted into a Hulu miniseries which will be released later this year and previewed in a teaser trailer during the Superbowl on Sunday.  Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts tells the true story of America’s first Ambassador to Nazi Germany. 

The store’s Instagram encouraged more benefactors to continue their altruistic purchases, writing:

“If anyone wants to purchase more copies of 1984 for giveaway, we have 100 coming in Monday/Tuesday, we're happy to continue distributing.”

Booksmith's Camden Avery told us more:

"Our first benefactor was actually sent to us by way of a gracious introduction from Green Apple's excellent Emily Ballaine; they had got the same sort of arrangement going on over there, and wanted to spread the love. The first ten copies of 1984 were gone in a day, but once people started hearing about what was going on others decided to jump in—and then yesterday someone else walked in and cleaned us out of The Handmaid's Tale and In The Garden Of Beasts to donate them from our front counter. We were so pleased we ordered 100 extra copies of 1984 from the publisher yesterday, in case anyone else wants to jump in and take up the effort."

"Like any other institution that traffics in ideas, bookstores are naturally suited to being places of community and activism—this is true historically, of course, as well as right now. Reading is disruptive, information is threatening; and bookstores are a place of safety for thoughts and voices and people disenfranchised from other corners of the world."

More and more companies are facing boycotts and criticism for their perceived support of Donald Trump—among them Bay Area based Uber and See’s Candies. In the face of authoritarianism and anti-intellectual leadership, however, some small businesses like Booksmith have been taking a stand against the administration and the current climate of alternative facts and hate speech.

Image c/o Booksmith Instagram

Jo Piazza is the author of How to Be Married, scheduled for release in April, 2017

Jo Piazza

Jo Piazza is an award-winning reporter and editor who has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Glamour, Marie Claire, Elle and Salon. She has appeared on CNN, NPR, Fox News, the BBC and MSNBC. Her novel, The Knockoff, with Lucy Sykes became an instant international bestseller and has been translated into more than seven languages.

Jo received a Masters in Journalism from Columbia, a Masters in Religious Studies from NYU and a Bachelors in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed If Nuns Ruled the World and Celebrity Inc: How Famous People Make Money.

She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and their giant dog. Her latest book <a href="http://www.howtobemarried.us">How to Be Married</a> will be released in April.

Read more stories by Jo Piazza