The Belmont Books story goes like this: Belmont, Mass. needed a bookstore, and Chris Abouzeid and Kathy Crowley opened one. That alone – the happy tale of the new independent bookstore – gives us reason to read on. But the plot thickens: the owners are both past Mass Cultural Council Fellows. Chris won in 2004 and Kathy won fellowships in 2006 and 2012.
We asked Kathy, who is also a physician, about the store, her writing, and her unique perspective as a multi-faceted storyteller.
So, “bookstore owner” joins “physician” and “writer” among your job titles. Is there a throughline between your professions?
Yes, I think so. There are a lot of doctor-writers out there, and now a whole field called “narrative medicine.” One of the most important skills a physician should have is the ability to listen carefully to a patient’s story. Robert Coles wrote about the importance of the patient narrative in his book The Call of Stories. One of the lines from that book that has always stayed with me is a quote from one of his patients: “You tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine.”
You could say I like stories and have pursued that interest a couple of different ways.
What made you want to open a bookstore?
We lived in Somerville for many years, a ten-minute walk from Porter Square. I think I went into Porter Square Books the very first day, or one of the first days, they opened. My husband Chris and I were regulars, especially Chris – when he started working there as a bookseller, years later, the owners joked about how much money they were losing because of the staff discount.
We moved to Belmont 6-7 years ago, and we really missed Porter Square Books. The idea of opening a neighborhood bookstore in Belmont Center started as a joke, and then we got more serious about it, and here we are! We’re hoping that Belmont Books will not only be a place for people to buy books and grab coffee, but also a place for the community, for people to meet or just run into friends and neighbors.
What has surprised you about running an independent bookstore?
The bookstore business is so much more complicated than I realized when we first started looking into it. We couldn’t have done this without the help of our friends from Porter Square Books. And that brings me to one of the best things about this decision: the Boston bookselling community is fantastic. We’ve gotten encouragement and help from every store in the area.
Dangerous question to ask a bookseller, but what are you currently reading?
I’m trying to read in two directions at the same time, with limited success. I’m in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, and have reading I need to do for that, most of which is work that was published years ago. For example, I just finished Margot Livesey’s novel Eva Moves the Furniture, and I’m reading Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart right now. Meanwhile, I’m trying to read at least a little bit of newly published work. I finished Annie Hartnett’s debut novel Rabbit Cake and (Mass Cultural Council award winner!) Laura Harrington‘s A Catalog of Birds, both of which I recommend highly. Terrific novels.
What are you writing now?
I’m working through a revision of a novel that I think is close to done. Aiming to send it out in the winter or spring.
Do you live with any animals?
We have a dog and two cats (all with high calorie names – Milkshake, Oreo, and Peanutbutter). We are also frequently visited by a family of turkeys, a woodchuck, and many bunnies.
Last thoughts? *
Ok, I inserted this question because I wanted to close by saying how grateful I am to the Mass Cultural Council. I don’t mean for the awards I received personally (though I am, of course) but as a resident of Massachusetts. The older (and possibly wiser?) I get, the more important I believe it is to live in a society that supports the arts. I’m glad I live in a state that takes that view too.
Belmont Books will host Tom Perrotta on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, 7 PM.
* Editor’s note: it’s true, Kathy added the last question. I’m glad she did.