Independent bookstores have been through a lot since Jack Carr, the son of a librarian, joined the U.S. Navy in 1996. The rise of Amazon.com and big-box book retailers like Barnes & Noble, the dot-com bubble and subsequent economic crash, and the widespread adoption of e-books are just a few of the obstacles they’ve overcome — but never without a few casualties.
More than two decades later, and indy bookstores are still offering readers a place to browse the bookshelves, meet the occasional author, and geek out with fellow bibliophiles. Carr, with his career as a Navy SEAL sniper behind him, has launched a successful second career as an author, and he uses his favorite bookstores to launch his new books.
“The normal launch is about 10, 12 stops — a new city each and every day,” Carr said in a phone interview with Coffee or Die. “People can call ahead and say, ‘Hey, I can’t make it,’ or ‘Hey, I live 500 miles away. Can you have Jack Carr sign one for my dad, and have it say Semper Fi because he was a Marine in Vietnam?’ or whatever it is.”
“It’s so important to be able to go out there, interact with people, and have these events,” he continued. “It’s not the, you know, hundred or so people that show up. It’s all of their friends that they talk to as well.”
But when his third book, “Savage Son,” was only weeks away from publishing and would be followed by a publicity tour that would take him to at least nine different shops around the country, a pandemic struck. A national emergency was declared, and most Americans were relegated to their homes for the foreseeable future. Most non-essential businesses, to include bookstores, were encouraged to close their doors until the novel coronavirus had passed.
Despite efforts by the government to mitigate the economic impact, it has been a potentially fatal blow to many small businesses.
Fortunately, many bookstores have adapted to the conditions by offering no-contact local delivery of books, online ordering, and even virtual events on Facebook Live. “They’re adapting, just like every other business,” Carr said. “Like we did on the battlefield, [they] adapt faster than the enemy.”
As a combat-tested Navy SEAL, Carr knows all too well what it’s like to have your back against the wall fighting an enemy you can’t see. He also knows the value of teamwork, so he’s encouraging his fans to order his third book from a local bookstore as a key component of his effort to support them.
“Other generations, they stormed the beaches of Normandy for us, they went over the beach at Iwo Jima for us,” Carr said. “There are a lot of people who aren’t healthcare professionals out there on the front lines, and their job is to stay home right now to help protect everyone else and do what they can to help others around them. And that includes ordering pizza from the local pizza place and getting a book delivered from your local bookstore. You can be the hometown hero by sitting on your couch and doing those things.”
Carr is also working with bookstores that would have been on his tour to give away signed bookplates. “I wanted to figure out something that I could do to try to help,” he said. “I came up with the idea of doing a limited-edition bookplate that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s small, obviously, but it’s something.”
Carr is optimistic that bookstores will recover, and he noted that most of them have been through adversity before, and, as small business owners, they’ve got the right stuff to make it through this. “My hope is that they do what they did in the past,” he said, “and embrace that spirit that got them to branch out on their own and start their own businesses, and they’ll make it through.”
In addition to his efforts to support independent bookstores, Carr is also selling “Savage Son” merchandise on his website, with 100 percent of the profits going toward the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. It’s all part of his effort to “do our part when we’re not out there on the front lines. We did that in the military, and now, the people on the front lines are those medical professionals, those doctors, those nurses, EMTs, police, fire fighters, who don’t have the option of staying home and not interacting with people that have COVID-19.”
“Savage Son” is the third book in Carr’s James Reece series, which follows his debut effort, “Terminal List,” and the critically acclaimed “True Believer.” It debuted at No. 10 on the New York Times combined print and e-book best-seller list and can be found at your local bookstore — and everywhere books are sold.
Marty Skovlund Jr. was the executive editor of Coffee or Die. As a journalist, Marty has covered the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota, embedded with American special operation forces in Afghanistan, and broken stories about the first females to make it through infantry training and Ranger selection. He has also published two books, appeared as a co-host on History Channel’s JFK Declassified, and produced multiple award-winning independent films.