I’m a reader, and I like bookstores. And when I say “reader,” I mean black-ink-printed-on-white-paper variety of reading material.
I have nothing against e-books and I have no opinion on Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad vs. anything else, including the tiny little screen of your Droid or iPhone. Hey, they’re your eyeballs; go ahead and wear ’em out. Just remember what your mama said about sitting too close to the screen.
But bookstores, particularly independent, singular operations that flourish in a creative city, are especially attractive. I found three such places on a recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina: Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Firestorm Cafe & Books and Malaprop’s.
Malaprop’s is the most “bookish” of the three, with its sleek wooden floors and shelves, elegant spacing, big windows and the overall feel of a small-town bookstore. The collection leans towards Southern and particularly local authors and history, alternative and offbeat topics, gay literature, vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, and hosts book signings, meetings and readings. Malaprop’s was the first Southern bookstore named as Bookseller of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly in 2000. Whether it’s a title from an independent house or a national bestseller, Malaprop’s will likely carry it. The small cafe offers locally made pastries, teas and some literally named coffee drinks (Civil Serpent, Optical Conclusion, The Fire Distinguisher) for sitting and sipping while you read. It’s pet-friendly and a perfect place to find a seat near the window and watch Asheville stroll by.
Firestorm offers a more eclectic collection of publications, focusing on very alternative economic, social and political literature from small, independent publishers. This is a cooperative owned equally by those who work here (no bosses or supervisors), and while it’s not as slick as Malaprop’s, there is a certain charm when anarchy meets art, thanks to the offering of films, lectures, readings and musical performances, and to the extensive cafe menu. Most of the food used is organic, all of it is vegetarian/vegan and either made on premises or sourced from socially conscious organizations (such as the bagels made by Home Free Bagels, a group that creates jobs for the “unhoused”). You can have tofu as a wrap, pannini or salad, as well as hummus, falafel, soups, salads and desserts so tempting you won’t bother asking if they are vegan (they are). The shop makes most of its income from the cafe and tries to present as many free community events as possible.
And as far from either of these two as Asheville is from the Antarctic is the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. When this multi-story, elegant abode opens its doors daily, you can stroll up to the bar, obtain your champagne (or beverage of choice) and wander through the maze of rooms and alcoves where thousands of “traded” books are stored and stashed. There are chairs, cushions and sofas scattered everywhere. This is a place that doesn’t just invite you to shop; it asks you to stay and get comfortable. Some areas feel like a hushed mansion library, with first editions behind glass, while others look like the kids’ section of the town library. Sit and read and enjoy your wine with a selection of light appetizers or desserts.
Three places keeping Asheville well-fed and well-read. What else does a reader really need?
Malaprop’s, 55 Haywood Street, Asheville, NC. 28801. Phone (800) 441-9829 or see their website: http://www.malaprops.com/about-us
Firestorm Cafe & Books, 48 Commerce St., Asheville NC. 28801. Phone (828) 255-8115 or see their website: http://www.firestormcafe.com/. NOTE: the shop is closed until Oct 16 for renovations.
Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, 1 Page Place, Suite 101, Asheville, NC, 28801. Phone (828) 252-0020 or see their website: http://www.batteryparkbookexchange.com/