BROOKLYN - A small group of children and parents gathered on a green patch in the middle of Cobble Hill Park. It was a gorgeous Saturday morning, and Books Are Magic had set up a signing table with copies of Mula and the Fly by Lauren Hoffmeier, who was there to sign books, conduct a reading, and maybe even do some yoga.
Books Are Magic was founded in 2017 in Boerum Hill by Emma Straub and Michael Fusco-Straub, according to Colleen Callery, the store’s Marketing and Communications Director. The two co-owners decided to start their business after Book Court, a long-time neighborhood bookstore, closed in the winter of 2016.
“We really care about being a neighborhood bookstore,” Callery said. “We really want to serve the community that we’re in. It’s really important for Emma [Straub] to support writers, local writers and especially emerging writers. Especially women and people of color.”
The bookstore is a charming spot — on the side of the building is an Instagram-worthy mural with the store’s name, and the inside is airy and welcoming.
“It’s really making it a place that feels good,” Callery added, “that we’re like it’s a place people wanna come, where families can come on the weekends, in the mornings, visitors who’ve never been to New York can feel comfortable there as well as people who’ve been in the neighborhood for like 20 years.”
Callery said she’s been encouraged by the community’s reciprocal support for the bookstore, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, when operations had to change.
“We had a flood of support when the pandemic first hit, it really didn’t slow down,” she said. She indicated that there was some difficulty involved in transitioning from a primarily storefront-based operation to one that relied heavily on a website, saying, “It took a lot of work to figure out how to make it all go smoothly, but we were just really grateful for all the support and people continuing to shop with us.”
When the pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions started in New York in March 2020, one big question that bookstores, publishers, and authors faced was how to pivot. Bookselling, at least when it comes to independent bookstores, was a very hands-on, face-to-face experience. Authors often visited stores to sign stock or hold launch events.
All over the country, authors and their teams were wondering what their careers would look like now. Stores like Books Are Magic helped the industry by moving from in-person selling and events to online ones. Platforms like Crowdcast and Zoom surged in popularity, and authors began hosting their launches, panels, and conferences online.
Callery said, “We felt strongly that we wanted to keep supporting these authors, especially now that so many stores were closed and the opportunity for people to buy their books had been so greatly diminished. A lot of our programming felt like a buoy — something to look forward to. I think a lot of the authors really enjoyed having some sense of an audience or community, getting to talk with other writers and friends of theirs.”
In the midst of social isolation caused by the fast-spreading viral diseases that shook the world, online book events were a boon.
Now that restrictions are easing in some ways, bookstores like Books Are Magic are reevaluating.
Callery said the store was taking things “event by event,” checking in with authors on what they’re comfortable with and monitoring the ever-changing pandemic landscape to decide whether to host events in-person or online.
“We’re leaning more into this hybrid model where we’ll have some small audience in store and then we’ll still stream it live online so people can watch it live,” she said. “[It’s] the best of both worlds!”
The Saturday morning event in Cobble Hill Park on July 31, 2021 featured Hoffmeier who, seated on the grass with a scattering of children and parents around her, chatted a bit about what yoga is before beginning her reading. She read Mula and the Fly aloud, her voice inflecting up and down with each new word, using different voices for different characters.
A retired performer and yoga teacher, Hoffmeier shared in an interview that she stopped performing a few years ago because, “I was depressed. It was real. I knew I needed to make a big change, but I am a creative person through and through and there was no way that that was going away.”
She got the idea for her debut picture book during an exam to gain her yoga teaching certification, when a fly kept buzzing around her head, distracting her to the point she forgot what she needed to do. She was so concentrated on what she was doing, worried because she was making a huge career change, and as she forgot her sequence, the story came to mind.
In Mula and the Fly, a lazy tiger learns about yoga because of a similarly distracting fly.
“With my experience in performing, I knew how to create a pitch, I knew how to organize a story,” Hoffmeier said. “I wrote it from the heart. There were no strings attached to it. I do feel like that’s one of the reasons why there was a connection to it, because there was an honesty to it, and I wasn’t thinking about what anyone else expected of it.”
Hoffmeier is passionate about mindfulness especially as it relates to children, and said she’s happy the stigma of discussing mental health is finally dissipating. She reflected that her book was picked up by her publisher, Sweet Cherry Publishing in the UK, as part of a longer series focusing on the various chakras, in part because it’s funny. And children relate to humor, and learn from it.
“Through humor, we can open up that dialogue about how easy it is to just sit down and take a breath and realize that taking care of your mental health is okay,” she said, “and it’s not taboo to speak about.”
After moving to Brooklyn Heights in February of 2021 — on Valentine’s Day specifically — Hoffmeier said she grabbed a backpack full of copies of her book and trekked around to various indie bookstores, meeting the booksellers, offering them a copy of her book, and making connections.
That is how she came to know the folks at Books Are Magic, who ended up hosting her for the event and having her sign stock to keep in the store.
“The kids who participated were lovely,” Hoffmeier said. “They loved talking about what they already knew about yoga, and they were excited to express that. It brought a smile to my face.”
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