The Triangle area of North Carolina—Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill—is famous for a lot of things: stellar restaurants (three of which made Gourmet‘s most recent Top 50 Restaurants list), musicians (Ben Folds, Ryan Adams, Mitch Easter, James Taylor, The Connells, Squirrel Nut Zippers), authors (David Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Lee Smith, Charles Frazier, Allan Gurganus, Kaye Gibbons, Jill McCorkle), and, of course, its basketball teams (Tarheels, Blue Devils). It’s also home to some of the best independent bookstores in the country–five of them in fact, each with its own distinctive charm. And they all pull in A-list authors for events.
This week we’ll be spotlighting all five of our local bookstores. You really can’t find better people than the owners and booksellers who work at them. If you ever travel to the Triangle, be sure to check them out!
First up is Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, which opened just about a year ago and which has a gorgeous space conveniently located beside Foster’s, one of the most popular restaurants in Chapel Hill. Land Arnold, one of the three owners, took the time to answer a few questions.
What books recently rocked my world:
I’ve snuck in some backlist lately. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Such a talent. 1989 National Book Award-winner Spartina by John Casey. Tried to read it a dozen years ago and couldn’t get into it. Tried it again a week ago and I was floored–I like to think I’ve matured. But I haven’t matured too much because I also loved recently Inside Delta Force by Eric Haney, a memoir about the formation of counter-terrorism Special Ops written by one of the original unit operators. There’s a group photo of these guys and they all really do look like Chuck Norris.
Best damn event we’ve hosted:
Has to be our grand opening. The place was silly with good cheer. At least 350 people attended –half in our event space listening to local luminaries Daniel Wallace and Nic Brown read from new novels, half having a cocktail party on our selling floor. And Jamie, Sarah, and I exhausted in some third, indefinable place.
Most entertaining author we’ve hosted:
Not being the one that usually books author events (and after this, never again), I relented to an event with seven poets. Not an easy proposition with the best conditions, but it turned out that all seven poets were the same guy. He got improv actors to play the parts. Before the event happened I had half a mind to cancel it, there was so much confusion and intrigue, even involving a seemingly unrelated Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. But some people showed up. There were staged cell phone interruptions, alcohol consumption and a pre-event call from an Ivy League police detective.
Strangest question a customer has ever asked:
I don’t remember exactly which two books she was holding, but it might as well have been War and Peace and Green Eggs and Ham, but the customer asked with utmost sincerity and curiosity, “which one of these books is better?” I tried to ask the usual follow up questions, like whom the book is for, etc. But she just wanted to know which book was better as if there existed empirical data that could prove one’s superiority.
What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome:
I just grabbed a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2010 and we have three people that I’ll currently claim as local represented. If you cough without covering your mouth, you are more than likely to get an author sick. I always sneeze into my elbow crook, so as not to fell a future National Book Award-winner.
I promise you won’t find this at any other store:
We have three functioning shower stalls, courtesy of a Ladies’ fitness center that preceded the bookstore. All three have the original dispensers filled with this magic liquid that acts as body soap and shampoo. A lot of sweat goes into running a bookstore, but with the aid of the showers, we hope people can’t tell.
If I weren’t selling books, I’d be:
Exhausting my excitement of what I’ve been reading upon friends and family without recompense.
Books that changed my life:
Two books jump to mind: GRE test prep–if I’d actually studied the math section, I might have gone to grad school instead of opening a store. In the introduction to one of his novels, Stephen King mentioned an author I mistakenly wrote down as Kirk Vonnegut. At the library I settled for Slaughterhouse-Five by this guy Kurt Vonnegut and novels have forever since made me feel blissfully unstuck in time.
Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party:
Oscar Wilde to pick the wine. Ernest Hemingway to bring the fish. Julia Child to pass the butter without reprimand.
Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life:
I like sad songs, though by most accounts I appear pretty happy. “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” by Kris Kristofferson; “I See a Darkness” by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy; “The River,” by Bruce Springsteen.
My last meal request:
If this is an awkward way to give me bad news, I vote my doctor for worst bedside manner. Otherwise, there’s this pb&j doughnut from a bakery in New York that might make me smile one last time when my time is up.