One of the fun things about running around touring a book is all the great bookslingers you meet in shops you’ve not seen before: Ann at Spiral Bookcase, Ruth of Book People.
Then there are the old familiars, like Malaprop’s.
I’ve been going to Malaprop’s since college, when I discovered the South’s San Francisco in Asheville, North Carolina. For those who haven’t been, Asheville is a city full of hats, dogs and same sex couples. It’s one of the best places to eat for 400 miles. And it’s got Malaprop’s.
Thirty years old this year, Malaprop’s is one of those Dr. Who bookstores that’s bigger inside than out. It’s got a cafe that serves things with long names ending in “o” made by guys who take their work waaaay too seriously. It’s got floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves in old dark wood, and cool staff. You can buy just about any snarky magnet or bumper sticker you ever imagined.
It’s got style.
Malaprop’s was a book talk I really looked forward to giving, and it did not disappoint–not even when I arrived to find myself advertised (next to Barbara Kingsolver and Ron Rash) for NOVEMBER 28th. See the woman between Jack and me? That’s Elizabeth. She runs events at Malaprop’s. That’s why she’s grinning like that.
Elizabeth was lovely, and that one piece of card had the only errant date. Their copious mailing list, the flyers on the windows, even the one on the back of the toilet stall door, gave the correct date, and I am pleased to say we had a capacity crowd: a new author whose book debuts in February, an Atlanta businessman retiring to the mountains, two couples from the town, some bookstore lovers, and–wonder of wonders–our dear friends the Volks from Big Stone Gap! They’d decided to surprise us and make a weekend of it in Asheville.
Jack and I talked about the world we live in now, full of convenience over community, one-click shopping and easy choices whose consequences lay buried behind time and media messages. I repeated my mantra that I don’t object to Amazon wanting to be the biggest, but to their wanting to be the only. We talked about Malaprop’s online service–one click, but still part of the big picture, not its whole. And we reminded ourselves, as an audience in the Q&A afterward, that what Malaprop’s and the other independents offer is a sense of place, an anchor for the place to go and enjoy oneself on a Saturday. Take away Malaprop’s and the yarn store next door, the chocolate shop across the street, the Himalayan Imports store will lose business, and wither. Malaprop’s is big and strong. It pulls customers up the street past other enticing store windows, creating commerce: commerce that sustains the heart of a downtown community.
Convenience is nice, the assembly agreed, but it’s a commodity, not a virtue. It behooves us as American bibliophiles to remember that.
Thanks, Malaprop’s (and Elizabeth) for having me there, and for being there.