Book Club

‘I want my world to get bigger’: How Casey Gerken runs a bookshop from this New Hampshire vacation spot

“I think the most important thing bookstores can provide is a space for discourse,” Innisfree Bookshop owner Casey Gerken said.

Elizabeth Keith of Boston reads by flashlight as she sits on the dock at Sandy Island Family Camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in Mirror Lake, N.H. in 2013. Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe

Every summer like clockwork, the summer folks flock to the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire — and to the well-stocked shelves of Innisfree Bookshop near downtown Meredith. 

“Our town has a large seasonal population and there are houses here that have been in families for generations,” said Casey Gerken, Innisfree’s owner. “I love it when readers who have grown up here come in and let us know we are among their favorites, and that they’ve been coming here since they were kids when they came to visit grandma and grandpa or other relatives at the lake. It makes us feel like we are a part of so many families!”


Originally hailing from Colorado, Gerken bought Innisfree from its previous owners in the summer of 2017 after working at the store herself from 2009 to 2013 as a frontline bookseller, assistant manager, and wholesale buyer. And before she switched to her book-centric career path, Gerken was a practicing architect. As a lifelong literature lover, she saw taking over the store as a way to both take charge of her own employment and invest in the small New England town she loves. But most of all, it was simply the desire to be around books that sealed the deal for Gerken. “I think, like most people who end up in bookselling, it was a love of books,” said the bookstore owner. “Not just reading books, but books as objects. I could spend hours in bookstores, with new books and old, looking at everyone.”

Innisfree Bookshop boasts 5,000 square feet of genre-spanning titles as well as cards and unique gifts that appeal to book buffs and others alike. Since acquiring the nearly three-decade-old shop, Gerken has made some changes from hosting more events to making necessary tech updates to finally replacing the flooring this year. “It’s cool because it’s looking great, but also because we have to move everything in the store and we get to start with a bit of a blank slate to create a new overall look and experience!” said Gerken. “We’re having a lot of fun, even though it’s a lot of work.” 

One thing that hasn’t changed at Innisfree, though, is its status as a buzzing hub for summer residents and year-rounders to connect. “I think the most important thing bookstores can provide is a space for discourse,” she said. “Especially now, people need a place where they feel heard and can learn to listen to each other respectfully.” 


Gerken feels her local literary community is extra special because of how multifaceted it is: The area is teeming with authors and small independent publishers that are always a pleasure to work with — and readers always show up at the store or otherwise to support them. Local schools and libraries are always ready and willing to work together to get books to those who need them most. And the bookstore owner herself is, of course, a huge asset to the Meredith literary community: serving on the board of directors of the New England Independent Booksellers Association. “I think the best part of our literary community is our ability to learn from each other,” she said. “Writing, publishing, distribution and bookselling have changed so much and to make sure our readers have access to the best of what’s out there we all have to work together.”

Though Gerken has a soft spot for the classics—her favorite book memory is her ninth grade English teacher reading “A Tale of Two Cities” aloud in class—she was truly taken with Jennifer Haigh’s “Mercy Street,” our Book Club March pick. “For me, ‘Mercy Street’ was like two hands carefully holding these characters and their stories and connecting them all together,” she said of the book, which contends with themes like abortion and compassion between people. “[Mercy is] like the heartbeat of the novel. Even when the stories go far away from New England, they all circulate back because they are a part of what is happening in the lives of those at Mercy.” Gerken also notes that Haigh truly takes care with developing each character in the novel—anyone could read the book and feel like they know her characters, drawing parallels between their lives and situations happening in our world today. 


Despite being situated in a small town, there are multitudes contained on Innisfree’s shelves according to Gerken and reading is the best way to expand one’s worldview. “I read because I want my world to get bigger,” she said. “It would be easy to let one’s world shrink exponentially over the last few years, but reading has always been a magical thing that allows you to go beyond any time and place you choose.”

Buy “Mercy Street” from: Bookshop | Innisfree Bookshop

​​Join the Book Club on Wednesday, March 26 at 6 p.m. for a virtual discussion with Innisfree Bookshop‘s Casey Gerken and author Jennifer Haigh on “Mercy Street.”