Friday, April 25, 2014

Subterranean Books - St. Louis, MO

Outside display window Subterranean Books, St. Louis, MO.

For the most part, indie bookstore owners and managers are a sympathetic brotherhood and sisterhood. They stick together.  After all, who else will help them and endorse them if not each other?  They share the common battle of survival and they all know what they're up against.  That's how I found out about Subterranean Books, from two different indie owners.  Mary Ann from NewBo Books in Cedar Rapids told me to check it out and Kris and Jay at Left Bank both told me to go visit Subterranean.  Both of them said that Kelly at Subterranean is a great person to work with.

So after visiting Left Bank on my recent visit to St. Louis I was off to Subterranean, a very short drive, to check it out.  If you're checking out books and visit one of these places, you might as well visit both.  As with many indies, Subterranean is housed in an older building.  It's located along a block of many small storefront businesses and if you're not paying attention you can walk right buy it.  They lost their awning but thanks to some help from author James Patterson they are able to replace it and make some minor upgrades.  The interior is long and narrow and it is packed with books.  Lots to look at and lots to look for.  Many local books displayed, smaller publishers featured like Europa, for example.  Even though I didn't have the good fortune to meet Kelly while I was here I did have the great luck to meet author Scott Phillips who just happened to walk in while I was there.

But here's the common thread with all these places: the people.  I didn't meet Kelly but she sure knows how to hire good staff because the staffer who was there, Tori Walters, could not have been nicer and more accommodating.  She balanced customers and phone calls but patiently and very enthusiastically talked to me about the store and all things books.  She recommended to me a a couple of books that I don't think I would ever have picked out on my own so I'll be anxious to read those.  Kelly, this employee is a keeper, give her a raise!  Everyone else?  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Didn't.  Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.  This book is loved by the majority of all readers.  But not me.  Couldn't get through it and could not embrace the writing style.  But don't listen to me, everyone else loves it!

CURRENTLY READING: Actually just starting.  The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison.  I have high

Look carefully in the lower right hand corner and you probably recognize the celebrity caught on camera, my mom!  She's getting ready to pounce on her next purchase.   Exterior of Subterranean Books.

Interior, Subterranean Books.

Long, narrow, and stacked high!

Yours truly and Tori Walters, a great staffer at Subterranean.

View from the upper level rear of the store looking towards the front.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Left Bank Books - St. Louis, MO

The deservedly proud owners of Left Bank Books, Kris Kleindienst (L) and Jarek Steele.  Kudos on a great indie!
I don't know St. Louis well, been there a few times and done the typical attractions.  The zoo, The Arch, a baseball game, and an amusement park.  But I'm telling you this indie needs to move to the top of your St. Louis visit list.  The family can drop you here and come back to pick you up later (haggard and stressed mothers I'm looking at you)!  Yes, if visiting St. Louis from out of town add this to your list of destinations and if you live within an hour or two of St. Louis and haven't been to Left Bank Books yet, shame on you!

This bookstore is located in a very cool, upscale, turn-of-the century type neighborhood.  Majestic, grand houses where you can imagine hearing parlor music from a party drifting out the windows of a 1900s era celebration.  Many quaint little shops and eateries as well.  My advice is to come here and wander.  For you history buffs this is near the location of of the 1904 World's Fair.  And like so many other indies, this bookstore is located in a very old building.

The store itself is bright, neat and well-organized, two levels, lots of books, lots of staff recommendations with their staff review tags, books of local interest, used books in the basement.  Compared to all the other indies I've visited I would define it as medium in size.  They are very active with readings at the store on a frequent basis.  This place has a very positive energy.  There isn't an on-site cafe but go down the street a few blocks to the corner of Maryland and Euclid and have a latte at the Coffee Cartel.

All these wonderful observations aside, the ace of the whole visit were the wonderful owners, Kris Kleindienst and Jarek Steele.  I can't say enough about these two.  They took time from their busy schedule to welcome my mom and myself and talked to us at length about the store and of course many book recommendations.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that these two, along with their two staffers I visited with while there, are the reason this place is a success.  All were so kind, accommodating, and patient to visit with us while we were here.  They were also very generous with a gift of a Left Bank coffee mug and book bag.

And one more thing.  There is a cat wandering the store.  Spike is the resident cat.  A cat in an independent bookstore.  This is so indie.  St. Louis, you need to trample a path to the front door of this place.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir!

JUST FINISHED: Devil In The Grove, Gilbert King.  Chilling.  Brutal.  Unbelievable.  Non-fiction of Florida in the civil rights era with Thurgood Marshall.  5 stars.

CURRENTLY READING:  Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein.  YA (Young Adult Lit).  Hasn't grabbed me yet but I'm just beginning.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Ouch.  Hild, by Nicola Griffith.  On The Come Up, by Hannah Weyer.  Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Tell The Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt.  The Delicacy And Strength Of Lace, edited by Anne Wright.

Left Bank Books in St. Louis on a rainy spring day.

Great window display

L-R, Jarek Steele, yours truly, Kris Kleindienst

Left Bank Books main floor interior  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NewBo Books - Cedar Rapids, IA

I can travel far and wide visiting the many indies outlined in My Bookstore, edited by Ron Rice, but as previously stated I'll also be visiting indies that aren't included in his book.  Ron told me that his book was so difficult because for every one he included he could have chosen five more.  Visiting all of those indies in his book continues to be my goal but in the meantime there will be many visits for me to other fantastic indies that enthusiastic readers need to know about.  This is the first indie I'm writing about not featured in Ron's book and how could I start with any indie other than the one right here in Cedar Rapids, NewBo Books.

If you're within a couple hours driving distance of Cedar Rapids, put this indie and it's neighborhood on your list of places to visit.  NewBo books is located in the historic CSPS building in the NewBo neighborhood of Cedar Rapids.  Every indie I've visited is uniquely different and NewBo Books is  probably the smallest I've been to so far.  What it lacks in size it makes up for in quaintness, charm, well-organized and neat, and great staff people to talk to.  I always love talking to staff people at the indies just to talk about books.  Mary Ann Peters, the owner and Kim the manager are 5 star people all the way and very fun to talk to about what they're reading.  If poetry is your thing, Julie is the one to talk to.  It's a cooperating bookstore with Prairie Lights in Iowa City and anything you need they can have within a day.  And just because it's small doesn't mean it doesn't schedule activities like all the other indies.  NewBo is continually promoting authors and live readings as well as other related book activities.

The bookstore doesn't have a cafe inside it.  But if you can walk literally 8 paces across the front entrance you can enjoy a great latte at The Brewed Cafe.  This is always a plus for me.  The location for this indie and coffee shop couldn't be better.  The NewBo neighborhood is an area of Cedar Rapids that has already seen major redevelopment and will continue to enjoy more of the same in the near future.  Check it out!  But of all the bookstores I visit this one wins the award for closest to where I live.   Even if my car won't start I can be there in 10 minutes on my bike.  Do me a favor, go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir!

JUST FINISHED: Lone Wolf, Jodi Picoult.  Good book, held my interest.  But sad.  You'll learn a lot about wolves and end of life decisions.  4 stars.

CURRENTLY READING:  Devil In The Grove, Gilbert King.  Non-fiction.  Chilling, brutal, and sickening.  Thurgood Marshall in the 40s and 50's crusade for civil rights in Florida.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  NONE!  A moratorium on book-buying!  Don't worry, this changes within the next two weeks with some new indie visits ahead.

NewBo Books in Cedar Rapids, IA

NewBo Books, located in the CSPS building
Mary Ann Peters, owner and yours truly

Interior, NewBo Books

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Muse Book Shop - Deland, Fl

If you're a first time reader and/or visitor to this blog I would suggest you go all the way back to the first post in February 2014 so you can read about my indie store project and mission.  Find out why I'm writing about independent bookstores.  You may proceed, governor.

Janet Bollum's business card says The Muse Book Shop is in the historic downtown district of Deland. This store fits that description of "historic."  Located in one of those historic buildings that when you walk inside, it smells old and the floors creaked.  Very cool.  Contains used and new books as well as vintage and collectible books.  Although, it doesn't seem to have as many new books as other indies I've visited.  Also has a small variety of antiques and miscellaneous.  And a live parrot in a cage behind the counter.  This is so indie!  It seems Janet and The Muse cater quite nicely to their community with one room of books devoted entirely to Florida subjects, interests, local authors, etc.  There really is something here for everyone.

With this tour of independent bookstores that I'm doing, when I show up at these places I run the risk of not getting to meet the owner if they happen to be gone.  Such was the case with Janet Bollum at The Muse.  The first day I went her brother Brian was there and said Janet was out of town and would not be in for a couple of days.  Thankfully, I wasn't leaving Florida immediately so I was fortunate to get to meet her on my 2nd try, three days later.

When I met Janet she was on the floor re-shelving misplaced books.  She was also baby-sitting her 8 month old granddaughter.  A true indie multi-tasker!  And even though every single indie I visit is unique compared to all others, they do have one thing in common; owners and managers who are great to talk to about books and authors.  I learn things with every visit and am finding as I continue along this project the people are as important as the bookstore.

You won't find a cafe or wifi in The Muse but there is a great coffee house around the corner, The Boston Coffeeshop, where they offered sit down service.  Did you hear me, people?  This is a coffeeshop with sit down, order, and be waited on service!  No ordering, standing, and waiting.  Sipped a great latte served by Nellie.  This place was 5 star all the way.

I was ably assisted on this visit by my fine staff Cheryl M. (degree in library sciences) and her husband Fran M. (tech support and advisement) whose talents and knowledge fill in all the gaps on the things I miss.  Spring break 2014 is more than parties and beaches.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir!

JUST FINISHED:  A Land Remembered, Patrick D. Smith.  Recommended to me by Janet at The Muse.  Historical fiction, Florida, 19th century, hard scrabble lives and survival.  Decent, 3 stars.

CURRENTLY READING:  The Lone Wolf, Jodi Picoult.  She has tons of stuff out there and I've never read any of it.  Highly recommended by reader Linda C. and my mom.  So far so good.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison.  The Commandant of Lubizec, Patrick Hicks.  Naturally, they both look great.

Janet from The Muse in the Florida Room with her 8 month granddaughter.  A great multi-tasker!
The Muse Book Shop in Deland, FL

The Muse

Plaque on the building where The Muse is located.  If you're a history buff, there's lots here!  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

St. Mark's Bookshop - New York, NY

This past fall I made my way to NYC and visited some of the independent bookstores featured in My Bookstore, edited by Ron Rice, and the guidepost for my project of visiting all the indies within.  St. Mark's Bookshop was another one of those I visited.

The inside of this bookshop is uniquely arranged.  In fact, I don't think I can even describe it in words other than unique.  Not a very big store, but still inviting and it was great to be there.  Also no cafe so you won't be able to sip a latte.  There were many books featured that were specific to NYC as well as to this very community and neighborhood.  In this regard, it seems to play well to its customers and their interests.  Also, many books here that you definitely would NOT see in a large chain bookstore.  If I could give this bookstore one more additional adjective it would be hip.  Very hip.  But that kind of goes along with this whole neighborhood.

I met Robert Contant briefly while there and he signed my book.  He was at the front register and was great to talk to but I think he was a little distracted at the time we visited.  I think he was trying to read!  He recommended a few books but the one that really grabbed my eye was written by Arthur Nersesian.  Nersesian was the author who penned the essay about St. Mark's for My Bookstore.  The title of the book is, ahem, well excuse me, ok parents edit this title as you read this blog post out loud at junior's bedtime, The Fuck-Up.  What a title!  So I couldn't pass it up and Robert told me that this might compare to something written by Charles Bukowski.  I've read Bukowski and liked it well enough so I'm looking forward to reading The Fuck-Up, while hiding it in a plain brown paper bag!

Ron Rice mentioned to me recently that St. Mark's is undergoing some challenges.  I don't know what they are specifically but can only imagine that they are similar to the problems that all indie owners face.  Go to their website and you can probably help.  Maybe the best thing you can do if you can't buy a book.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir!

 CURRENTLY READING:  A Land Remembered, Patrick Smith.  Mark Twain-ish but set in Florida.  Historical fiction.  Almost done.

RECENTLY PURCHASED: Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein.  Looked like a good story set in France 1943.  Impulse buy of course.  Who knows when I'll get to it.

Click on the above link to help save an indie.  Or copy and paste since I can't get this dumb thing in here right.