Ink Fish Books offers a bit of Rhody in gift box

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 10/7/21

You can hear the excitement in Lisa Valentino’s voice begin to rise as she buzzes from one shelf to the next inside Ink Fish Books on Main Street, showing off the various published works from …

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Ink Fish Books offers a bit of Rhody in gift box

Posted

You can hear the excitement in Lisa Valentino’s voice begin to rise as she buzzes from one shelf to the next inside Ink Fish Books on Main Street, showing off the various published works from local authors that have gained widespread publicity and appeal.

“I geek out over authors and writers,” she said.

Valentino opened Ink Fish Books as a fresh start after leaving a long career on the production and marketing side at the Providence Journal. The store, which will celebrate its third anniversary on Oct. 21, encompasses two of her most vigorous passions — literature, and advocating for her local community.
And although she grew up in Narragansett and has spent most of her life living in Warren, all true Rhode Islanders know that, in The Ocean State, the “local community” stretches from Woonsocket to Westerly and everywhere in between.

So as part of her business plan when she opened Ink Fish Books, Valentino committed to creating an annual gift box that was a conglomeration of all things local. The “Rhody Reader Box,” as she dubbed it, features various handcrafted items from local artisans that connect through a central theme to the box’s centerpiece item — a book written by a local author, naturally. A portion of the sale of each box goes to a local nonprofit.

COVID was in full swing as Valentino was building momentum for the first ever Rhody Reader Box in 2020. She talked about how the cancellation of most types of events where local artisans and authors find the opportunity to sell their wares, like farmer’s markets and craft shows, upped the urgency she felt to help buoy them during the storm.

“I thought, I can’t wait to do this box, I have to do it now, to give these folks exposure,” she said.

The inaugural Rhody Reader Box launched last August. And it landed.

“The last box went to over 23 states in the country, which was amazing,” Valentino said. “It was a friend to a friend gift, it was a holiday gift, a birthday gift, it was a gift for someone who maybe had lived here and recently moved — a little Rhody love in a box.”

Barrington author featured in this year’s box

She has spent this year figuring out which book to build the new box around, and wound up falling in love with a story written by Barrington resident Elizabeth B. Splaine, “Swan Song”, a historical-fiction piece that centers around Ursula, “a Jewish opera singer who rises to fame in Nazi Germany and becomes the object of Adolf Hitler’s twisted obsession.”

Accompanying the book is a soy wax candle named “Swan Song”, crafted by Juniper Hill Apothecary out of Bristol, a piece of chocolate made into the shape of a treble clef made by Cranston-based Aura’s Chocolate, and a handmade beaded bookmark made by Irene, a local craft maker from Riverside.

“This is very collaborative,” Valentino said of the selection process for the gift box. “It’s important that each piece of this box — the author and all the makers — are part of this decision making process too. For me, that makes it even more special.”

The nonprofit benefiting this year is Books Are Wings, a Pawtucket-based group that provides free books to children. It connects to the box’s main theme of art and artistic expression being used as a means to overcome hardship in life. Last year the Warren-based Rhode Island Writers Colony was the beneficiary.

Valentino said that she loves coming into work every day, in the middle of a town where local shops and small businesses dominate the two main drags and she knows her customers by name.

“What town has all this?” she asks. “It’s amazing.”

And as disruptive and damaging as COVID has been and continues to be, Valentino believes that the pandemic has actually made the fervor with which people shop locally grow even stronger — especially in Little Rhody.

“I know that during this time period, people have become so much more aware,” she said. “We all had to stop and slow down and rethink things. We were at home and stuck with terrible things happening in our world. So much shifted, and that’s one of the things that shifted with folks. They knew they could lose this, and the only way not to was to support as many people as they could in whatever ways they could.”

The Rhody Reader Box is available for shipping to anywhere in the country and is available for curbside pickup at the shop. You can order a box at www.InkFishBooks.com, emailing info@inkfishbooks.com or calling the store at 401-368-6827.

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