We rolled into Asheville, North Carolina, in the late afternoon. We knew as soon as we saw this sign hanging on the wall at a local bakery that we were going to love Asheville, and we were right!
Honestly, if you are a bookworm, you want to live in Asheville. If you are a bookstore, you want to live in Asheville! This is a reader’s, and writer’s, town. In particular, there is a great poetry and performance poetry scene in Asheville, in part because of our dear friend and amazing slam poet Alan Wolf, who calls Asheville home. Here’s a link to Alan performing. If you are a teacher, start agitating now to get Alan into your school – your students will fall in love with poetry! We spent a fun evening with Alan and his family, plotting out our Asheville visit. Our first stop the next morning, after a fantastic breakfast at Sunny Point Cafe, we headed over to the world-famous Malaprop’s Bookstore.
Malaprop’s was founded in 1982 by Emoke B’Racz, who continues to own and run the bookshop. Malaprop’s is a home for books, but it is also a place where values like peace, freedom, and equality are taken seriously. Part of the bookstore’s mission statement reads: A gathering of people who are drawn to peaceful coexistence and the realization that knowledge is more valuable than money. We spoke with Emoke for a while in the bookstore and she really stressed how important these values are in running her store. When we asked her why she started a bookstore back in 1982, she said simply, “Because I think it’s the most important thing, knowledge.”
I also loved Emoke’s response when we asked her about the big-box online (It Who Must Not Be Named) competition: “I do not compete,” she said firmly. “Competition belongs on the sports field.” Then she added, and we could not agree more, “Customers make the choice. If they choose to shop here, we’re here. If they don’t, we’ll be closed.”
Emoke grew up in Hungary with, as she put it, parents who had nothing but books. At Malaprop’s she practices what she calls “Fair Capitalism,” which means that the employees at Malaprop’s make a living wage that includes benefits. We saw the results of this atmosphere with every staff person that we spoke to at Malaprop’s – they were all super-knowledgeable about books, but they were also extremely happy in their jobs!
Emoke also pointed out that Malaprop’s doesn’t carry every book – “We don’t carry books that…we shouldn’t,” is how she put it. This reminded me of another one of Malaprop’s Mission Statements: A place where the books are the stars. Not the celebrities ghost writing, or the trashy book-of-the-week, but the books themselves.
And what a collection of books! A HUGE poetry section, and an equally huge Children’s/YA section. I spent some time with Alsace Walentine, Events Coordinator for Malaprop’s, talking about Malaprop’s – Alsace told me that they are known for their support for regional authors and reiterated what we have been hearing all across the country – that people who shop local reap the benefits of a truly local, community-oriented store.
Alsace singled out two local authors, Stephanie Perkins and Megan Shepherd, as super-poular right now. I read Megan Shepherd’s first novel, “The Madman’s Daughter,” and loved it, so I was delighted to hear both that it’s selling really well, and that the sequel is out! “Dark Curiosity” immediately went into the Subaru Library… Alsace told me that Stephanie Perkins’ upcoming book, “Isla and The Happily Ever After” has been so hotly anticipated that Malaprop’s is getting pre-orders for the book from all around the world! If you want a signed copy of the book, you can pre-order it from Malaprop’s and Stephanie will sign your copy and then Malaprop’s will ship it out to you on August 14th. Pretty cool, right?!
After Malaprop’s we scooted across town to Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, the only children’s bookstore in Asheville. We were greeted at Spellbound by Leslie Hawkins, the owner of the shop, and her sidekick, Hugo, aka., the Bookstore Dog.
At Spellbound I was delighted to see Alan Wolf’s marvelous novel for kids, “Zane’s Trace,” prominently displayed. I read that book in one giant gulp, and Leslie agreed with me that it’s a gripping, but also moving, and even funny, masterpiece of a book.
Spellbound hosts kids’ events every weekend, as well as regular story hours and visiting writers and performers. The most popular book club that Leslie runs, however, is made up entirely of adults: its her long-running YA Adult reading group! Starting in January 2015, the group is going to sponsor their own award – the “Golden Circle of Awesomeness” for the best YA book for adults that the group read in the previous year. I’m definitely going to stay tuned for that award!
In Asheville we stayed with Paul’s cousin Tom, his wife Anne, and their boys DJ and August. They live on this glorious piece of land outside of town – what a place to retreat to after a long hot day of running around town! Staying with Tom and Anne and their boys was just the latest experience that we have had all along this road of finding great bookstores/hanging out with great people. It seems the two things go hand in hand, which has proved awfully lucky for us!
I’ve been thinking a lot on this trip about the connection between good bookstores and good people. It’s not that good bookstores build good people, or vice versa – but there is a definite connection. A good, community-oriented bookstore seems to make a promise that the town that houses that bookstore will be full of good, community-minded people. We have seen this all across the country, and the message has really sunk in. It reminds me of what Emoke B’Racz told me about starting Malaprop’s Bookstore back in 1982: “I think every town deserves a bookstore like this.”
Between the swinging, peace-loving and comprehensive Malaprop’s, and the magic world of childhood reading that is Spellbound, I think Asheville has gotten exactly what it deserves. Every town in America should be so lucky.