Friends, Brooklynites, Lend Me Your Books: Mellow Pages’ new book empire

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 9.02.27 AM

There’s something about Mellow Pages that’s just a little hard to wrap around your head. On its face, it’s a pretty simple endeavor: two guys took a studio space in Bushwick and put a few books up on the wall. Before they knew it, more and more books were added based on a “ten book loan” membership model. For the price of that loan, members are welcome to use the space to sit quietly and read or work. Add a few reading events, and writing workshops at night, and you’ve got Mellow Pages: a free-of-cost reading room/creative space in Bushwick. The thing of it is, places like Mellow Pages usually just don’t exist in New York City, in a place where people pay and pay for the privilege of being near culture, culture that rarely comes completely devoid of a price. You can look as hard as you want for the hidden price of entry to Mellow Pages, but you won’t find it.

“We like to promote non capitalistically the stuff we enjoy.”

The free-of-cost offerings are threefold. First off, it’s workspace. For all the talk of “Coffices” or “Co-Working Spaces,” many of which charge half of what most people pay in rent around here, Mellow Pages has free coffee and free WiFi.

“Even if you go to a coffee shop and just work without buying anything, you’re an asshole. This is a place where you are welcome without having to consume things,” says co-founder Jacob Perkins

Events at Mellow Pages consist of writing workshops such as the weekly “Words After War” writing group for war veterans, as well as readings. The readings are free and often feature heavy hitters of the literary world, like the Halloween reading with Southern literary upstart Scott McClanahan, and Lindsay Hunter, author of the new story collection Don’t Kiss Me. Both are personal favorites of the Mellow Pages team.

Of course, Mellow Pages is also a library, but not just any library. While futurists have predicted the fall of big box bookstores in the digital age, many believe smaller bookstores will thrive because of consumers’ desire for curation. Though Perkins and co-founder Matt Nelson stay away from the word “curate,” they do enjoy recommending their favorite books to fellow members.

Matt Nelson (l) and Jacob Perkins, co-owners of free-of-cost reading room in Bushwick.

Matt Nelson (l) and Jacob Perkins, co-owners of free-of-cost reading room in Bushwick.

It’s an odd comparison that only works with regard to quality of selection, but in that sense, Mellow Pages excels like the Williamsburg thrift giant Beacon’s Closet. Because of the assumption that locals have good taste in clothes as well as a voracious desire for more and newer clothes, Beacon’s Closet stays stocked with a treasure trove of quality goods. At Mellow Pages the same is true, minus the buying and selling. It’s full of good books because members love books. However, the books members loan to the library can be taken back at any time.

“It’s a true loan,” Perkins says.

Furthermore, Mellow Pages functions as meeting place, a conversational hub for those who, in a world of quick-cut distractions and marathon DVR weekends, still flock to the written word.

“Conversation is a big part of what goes on in here. It’s not even conversation Matt and I are having with people, but people talking about books and saying, oh have you read this? We like to promote non capitalistically the stuff we enjoy.”

When asked whether Mellow Pages is an anti-capitalist organization, Perkins replies calmly, “I don’t know who isn’t.”

Included in the library are books across the spectrum, from major publishers and indies alike. However, Mellow Pages seeks out and promotes authors from indie houses or those who are self-published, many of whom regularly send
books.

“The real driving force is that we get to see people come in and pull a book off the wall that they’ve only seen on a computer screen. There’s a level of joy and excitement that is amazing to provide,” says Nelson.

Yet, the existence of Mellow Pages remains something of an anomaly, if not an enigma. If you ask Perkins or Nelson about it, they don’t seem worried. They might even be likely to tell you, “That’s why we’re Mellow Pages.”

Mellow Pages has recently launched an Indie-Go-Go campaign to raise more money so they can survive and expand. Up until now, the space has been supported with money from Nelson and Perkins’ pockets. It began in a small studio at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick. On a gamble the co-founders moved into a larger space in the same building this past July. To cover their rent and keep the space, they’ve launched the campaign.

“So far we’ve financed the project out of pocket, and it was fine because we were still trying it out and there was no risk because it was already Jacob’s studio built into his budget for the year. Based on the large positive reaction to what we’re doing, we decided to go bigger, to see what was possible,” says Nelson.

Still, most people don’t believe that stuff like this can exist in this city. As the writer of this piece, I hardly believed it. Interviewing Perkins and Nelson, I found myself waiting for the catch, the grant, the benefactor, or the money from the city—the something that keeps them alive. It turned out that “something” was a kind of idealistic, perhaps quixotic, passion you rarely see in your adult life.

It’s what sucks about growing up. Perhaps Mellow Pages is a literary Neverland. If that sounds like something you’d like to keep in your neighborhood, donations can be made at the following URL http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mellow-pages-library.

Mellow Pages Library
56 Bogart Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn