“Reading not only takes you places, it’s one thing that can put you on a level playing field.” — Liz Barden
To walk into Big Hat Books and meet its owner, Liz Barden, is to come face-to-face with enthusiasm. That was certainly Nick Hornby’s experience. The best-selling British author of High Fidelity was in town for a reading at Butler University. When he stopped by the independent bookshop, Barden asked him if he would do her the honor of selecting books for the store’s music section. Hornby jumped at the offer. “This is a writer’s dream,” he said, “to have a stake in a bookstore without any liability!”
So customers at Big Hat will soon have a chance to peruse music books selected specially for them by one of the world’s most famous music writers. The great thing about this is that Hornby’s music section will fit nicely with an overall inventory that has been thoughtfully handpicked to provide readers with maximum pleasure for their money.
That personal touch has quickly made Big Hat Books an indispensable part of the local community. Barden, who moved here from New York City with her writer-husband Dan Barden, didn’t set out to own a bookstore — one of the most high-risk business ventures there is. “I thought it was something I would do later on, when I had the time and the money — and then I realized, you can wait a long time for that,” she says.
For Barden, the discovery that Indianapolis was without a full-service independent bookstore was a serious cultural problem that had to be remedied. “The only thing that was missing — other than an ocean, or the East River — was a bookstore. Without it, there wasn’t the sense of community or neighborhood the way that I was used to it.”
Rather than wait for someone else to do it, Barden opened Big Hat Books a year and a half ago. Grateful readers began showing up almost immediately. Since then, Barden has used her store to connect the city with a larger literary world, welcoming writers from around the country, providing intelligence to the New York Times’ Book Review and even hosting a reading by Andy Jacobs that was nationally cablecast on C-SPAN.
She has also become a fierce advocate for locally-owned businesses. “Out of every $100, 68 to 69 of those dollars go directly back into the community — that means your schools, your potholes, your arts, your police, all of that. It’s hard, because when that $100 is in your pocket, it seems like the right thing to be getting $2 off this and a dollar off that in some chain. But that immediate thinking absolutely destroys the future.”
Books, Barden says, are the great equalizer. “Reading not only takes you places,” she says, “it’s one thing that can put you on a level playing field. And, hopefully, in the world, that’s where we’re all going to meet.”
— David Hoppe