The Ultimate Road Trip: An Ode to Garden and Gun and Southern Bookstores
By Kelly Justice, SIBA President, Fountain Bookstore Owner
I have this dream of the ultimate road trip.
I'd start with a full tank of gas, my (mostly) trusty map application on my phone, and a couple of grand in cash to spend on books....and I'd head South. This dream has been pretty vague until recently when I checked my mail slot and in it was the February/March issue of Garden and Gun.
I have a black thumb, no interest in firearms or hunting dogs. So, why do I have a subscription to G&G? Simply put: G&G is one of the best sources of information on the culture of the New South. It's smart. It doesn't pander. It is full of articles on everything Southern in food, music, literature and lifestyle.
In this month's issue is a great essay about parenting compared to gun dog training ("Fetch Daddy a Drink") by P.J. O'Rourke, a feature on oyster eating around the South, a piece on Jill McCorkle. But most importantly: the guidebook for my road trip.
"Best Sellers: A Literary Tour of the South's Top Independent Bookshops" by Beth Ann Fennelly highlights fourteen stores, many of whom are the inspiration of what I hope I can achieve with The Fountain one day. (Yep, I'm a dreamer.) Let's start with the ones I've already visited.
Malaprops in Asheville, NC
Emoke B'racz was one of my early role models as a bookseller. A clearly defined personality for your bookstore is a difficult thing to develop. Malaprops' selection of books, attitude of its staff, layout, everything speaks to the mission of being Asheville's community bookstore. Linda Barrett Knopp has a great deal to do with its success as well.
Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL
Mitchell Kaplan and his crew shine almost as much as the floors in this bright, inviting store. When I visited, my ego demanded that I find at least one indication of imperfection so that I didn't have to come back to Richmond and close immediately due to shame. I did eventually find one light bulb out, but it took an hour and it probably went out seconds before I noticed it. Still, it was enough that I could come home, keep the doors open and start dreaming about my very own wine bar in my store.
Now to the stops I need to make.
Square Books in Oxford, MS
Manager Lyn Roberts and I have been known to bend an elbow from time to time. And the stories touring authors tell me about the hospitality of owner Richard Howorth demand I make time to go to Oxford. Purely on the basis of meeting these two booksellers I know that a trip to Square Books would make me feel like I'd found a second home.
Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL
Raw energy and passion is what I'll find at Page & Palatte! Karin Wilson owns this family operation. I imagine a bookstore filled with electric excitement about books and reading. Must make time to attend an event....they sound like block parties.
That Bookstore in Blytheville in Blytheville, AR
Mary Gay Shipley has been a bookseller to watch before anyone was watching booksellers. I have to see a store owned by a woman that is described in G&G as the world's best handseller...enough so that she was featured in a profile in the New Yorker.
Book People in Austin, TX
I just want to sit in the barber's chair and read away the afternoon. Fountain is about 1/30th of the size of Book People. I'm not sure how owner Steve Bercu does it. Here's to hoping he can spare me a few minutes to recommend some great music venues while I'm there.
Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, AL
I've been threatening to couch surf at Jake Reiss's house for years. Alabama Booksmith has one of the most robust events calendars in the nation. I think it mainly has to do with so many authors just wanting to visit Jake.
What's keeping me from hitting the road and visiting these fine shops and Lemuria, Regulator Bookshop, A Capella Books and so many other worthy candidates not mentioned in the article? Well, two things:
1. Age has visited upon me an unfortunate condition: narcolepsy brought upon by long-distance driving. No joke. So, for everyone's safety, I'll need a driver.
2. Finding someone to take care of Fountain while I'm gone. Applicants for the position should demonstrate a unwavering devotion to the caregiving of a community bookstore equivalent to my colleagues listed above. I don't expect I'll find this person as they are rare indeed. But one can dream.
Thank you to Garden and Gun for sharing with the world a few of our Southern jewels.
Kelly Justice, President
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
The Fountain Bookstore, Inc.
Historic Shockoe Slip
1312 E. Cary St.
Richmond VA 23219