An illustration of a line of people walking to a building carrying books by Marc Rosenthal.

On the eve of his 50th birthday, Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture, was troubled by two realities of the U.S. bookselling market.

First, Stavans observed, U.S.-based readers had too few opportunities to imagine themselves in connection with the rest of the world through contemporary English-language translations of the world’s literature. Unlike their European counterparts, in American publishing houses only about 3 percent of new books each year are translations.

Meanwhile, homogenizing market forces were affecting the promotion and distribution of new books. The Town of Amherst had once been home to a plethora of independent bookstores, but many of those shops had been shuttered. Within a few decades, Stavans marveled, the town’s “ecosystem of books was decimated.”

For the next dozen years, Stavans threw himself into producing more translated books that could speak across linguistic and cultural borders. And now, in 2023, his efforts have brought the town an unexpected gift: a new brick-and-
mortar bookstore.

Let’s flip back a few pages to explain this plot development.

In 2013, Stavans co-founded an independent publishing house, Restless Books, so named because it promised “a richer diet of international literature” for readers who were “naturally hungry for new destinations, experiences and perspectives.” 

As its publisher, Stavans has a special affinity for immigrant stories, which “make us see particular corners of the world in a more nuanced and challenging way,” he says.

As the Brooklyn-based publishing house prepared to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Stavans envisioned a new space in  Amherst, where Restless could sell its books, yes, and also be seen in the process of creating them. 

The arrival of Restless Books at 69 Main St. instantly doubled the number of bookstores in town. (The other one is Amherst Books at 8 Main St.) Restless occupies a modest brick storefront, a former barbershop one door up from the Black Sheep Deli. The low-key, stylish space was assembled by a team of Amherst College interns, who hauled in the books and the inviting pair of yellow wingback chairs that adorn the shop’s wide front window.

Assistant Editor Rodrigo Aguilera Croasdaile ’23, who writes in both English and Spanish, has worked for  Restless Books since graduation. As part of Stavans’ plan to make the process of book publishing visible, Croasdaile and his colleagues do their editorial work right in the bookshop. Curious passersby often stop in to talk.

Amherst Books proprietor Nat Herold appreciates having Restless Books down the block. “I go down once a week and chat with the staff, and Ilan and I go out to coffee regularly,” he says. Future ideas for collaboration include having the two stores co-host author events, with a public reading happening in one bookshop, followed by a reception at the other.

Restless Books’ tagline, “An international publisher for a world in motion,” reflects the whirl of activities that Stavans plans to welcome into the bookstore in the form of author talks, poetry readings and immigrant gatherings. He also enjoys pointing out that the former barbershop space was, before that, a laundry.

“And now there is a publishing house,” Stavans laughs. “I see metaphorically a connection between all of them.”

Illustration by Marc Rosenthal