September 3, 2011

The Best of Times: Bookstores Today in the USA

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:24 am

One of the best parts of being on the road has been getting a dashboard-view of bookselling today.

On the whole, the news seems good, far better than some reports would have us believe. Every one of the 50+ stores we have toured (um, shopped in–holiday gift giving: done) has been filled with customers; the booksellers appear optimistic about the unique place they hold in the community. One bookstore in St. Louis called Left Bank Books opened a second branch of their flagship store, and the new store was the only business in the neighborhood to survive the recession. I even heard tell that the closing of the beloved I Love a Mystery in Kansas City is to be paired with the opening of a sister store in Los Angeles. (People in the know, please weigh in).

Right now we are in Nashville, TN, a route we planned so we could stop at Mary & Greg Bruss’ gem of a mystery bookstore, Mysteries and More.

The store is filled with both new and used books–the ‘more’ in the store’s name applies to suspense, thrillers, even some horror and paranormals–and Greg and Mary go out of their way to support local authors. I could’ve stood at the shelf of local books alone for hours–wound up buying a signed copy of THE BEST OF EVIL by Eric Wilson–before turning to my holiday list.

Greg told me that Mysteries & More is one of only 40 or 50 bookstores left devoted to mysteries, and there are so many special touches that show why this sort of place is so necessary–essential–to mystery lovers. It’s rare to have a place that entirely revolves around your passion.

From a collection of matchboxes with tiny little noir book covers on them to an assortment of alphabet blocks that spell out M-Y-S-T-E-R-I-E-S A-N-D M-O-R-E, suggesting how the love of mystery extends from the store’s Nancy Drew’s right up to the cozies one customer reads at a rate of two per day. Two a day! This woman is profiled in a newspaper article hanging on the wall.

Greg and Mary have no fewer than 4 author events scheduled for the coming month–I believe Chester Campbell, whom I know from the vibrant listserv DorothyL, will be giving one. Mary tells an inspiring story about how author Carolyn Hart motivated Mary & Greg’s decision to open a mystery bookstore as this-part-of-their-life’s dream.

One of the other best parts of this cross country odyssey has been getting to meet writing folk I’ve known for years face-to-face. From Iowa City to Denver to Portland, OR, I’ve gotten to spend time with some of the most kindred spirits I’ve ever known. And here in Nashville I met an emerging writer I know from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. This contest has set many writers on their way, and I hope Dana will be one. But even aside from the writing shop talk, Dana and I got to squeeze in, our visit also points to another of the unique pleasures of this trip.

The fast friends my daughter made with Dana’s six year old. The inside tour of ‘cue my husband and I got to have at her expert hands. Time spent, rather late of an evening, in a hotel room, just connecting about the things that had brought us all together.

I hope Mysteries & More is around for decades to come–I can’t wait to get back here again myself, to browse for books and see new friends.

Happy Labor Day, Suspense Your Disbelief readers!

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