Today I went to check out Ann Arbor’s brand-new bookstore, Literati, located right on Fourth Street downtown, which is home to at least 4 other new and used booksellers of unique specialty. This store has been a big deal locally and joins a growing movement to revive brick and mortar bookselling. Will it work? Well it seems to run a fine line, but I think if anyone can do it, these guys can.
I went into Literati realizing that it was a little small to be able to stock titles with real depth into any genre. These days I’m looking for additional work by new favorite authors like Italo Calvino, Kate Bernheimer, Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, Joan Aiken–lots of magical realism and fantastic fiction based in contemporary reality. What would make me over the moon happy is if a bookstore could
1) recognize my taste and lead me to new authors &
2) stock work by my favorite authors
I almost got both. One of the staffers said she didn’t read in this area, but another (now looking at Literati’s blog I think it might have been Hilary, one of the owners) picked up on what I was looking for right away and suggested Alice Hoffman’s new book The Dovekeepers. Unfortunately this title won’t work for me just because it’s one of those multi-generational relational epic novels, which I don’t care for, but it’s nice to see Alice Hoffman represented in the store. I also found that they stocked just the latest title by Italo Calvino, a few of Neil Gaiman’s most popular titles, plus lots of really great quality literary or general fiction, but no back titles. So, for the size of the store they’re really doing great. There was no trashy celebrity tell-all stuff. In short, no space wasted. Their fiction wall was full of wonderful stuff. But I couldn’t find any of the books I went in looking for, which just don’t happen to be the latest by these authors. They did, however, have a good sampling of classic lit and multiple titles by several very popular authors, so I walked out with Nabokov’s Pale Fire and one of Alice Munro’s story collections.
Literati keeps a case full of old typewriters under the counter, as well as one downstairs with a page in it that says “What is your favorite book of all time?”, inviting customers to type their selections. Besides the great atmosphere this creates, this was my favorite thing about Literati. They ask customers to tell them what they’re looking for, and what they think the store should carry more of, and they have already changed their stock to suit their customers’ tastes, after being open just a few weeks, doubling their sci-fi/fantasy section, for example. In a town full of well-read folks, they’re sure to find a balance this way. Now, I did feel some pressure to purchase something in order to support my new local store when I knew I could have gotten a better price on Amazon, but I really miss this feeling of walking into a store where they know their books and create a nice booky atmosphere, so for me it’s at least occasionally worth the price tag. Literati is stocking the very best of what Borders’ mothership store down the street used to stock in their high days, and that says a lot, especially in a town that knows how to appreciate this curation. The store had good traffic the entire time I was in there in the early afternoon on a weekday, and I hope this continues for them. I’ll be back.
P.S. I emailed Hilary this post, and she wrote me right back saying that she forgot to mention a short story collection they have in stock of women writing magical realism, plus they normally have more Italo Calvino on the shelves but are having a hard time keeping him in stock. So, there you go…. Love this town, love this new bookstore.