I interviewed Steven Elliot, proprietor of the wonderful Falls River Books in Raleigh (directions here).
1. You have a great selection of old paperbacks, including pulp fiction from Fawcett Gold Medal. What's interesting about these books? Who are your favorite authors who were published in this format?
Fawcett was an innovative publisher, launching the career of thousands of authors, but by far John D. Macdonald is my favorite writer published by them. They also chose great illustrators and their cover art is outrageous. First and foremost, I derive a great pleasure from saving old and forgotten books from the trash heap, and I pride myself for shelving books that other stores reject. They just do not know what they are missing.
2. You also carry a wide selection of books of poetry, including out-of-print titles from small presses. Why is it important to you to have a good poetry section?
Poetry has an existence akin to ephemera. It is generally printed in limited quantities, is hard to find, and quickly goes out-of-print. Most poets are unknown and not because of their lack of talent. Also the quality of poetry, more so than any other type of writing, is subjective. Just because you may not care for a particular poem, it does not mean that others may not find it to be sublime. Because of these aforementioned qualities I shelve every book of poetry we receive. I think the store is more complete since we have this collection.
3. What is your background in book selling?
I have been selling books for close to twenty years. In addition to Falls River Books I own a store in Durham called Northgate Books, and I owned two landmark used bookstores in Miami.
4. What kind of experience are you hoping your customers will have?
I am an introverted extrovert, and Falls River Books is a habitat in which I thrive. It is designed to feel like my living room. I want you to feel like a guest, and I will be your host. In Falls River Books, as in all of my bookstores, I have created an environment akin to a room in your home. A place where you almost feel comfortable wearing your pajamas, but please wear some real clothes, will you. A bookstore should be like a bar for bookaholics. Feel free to share your sorrows with your bartender.
5. What are some of the events you host? Which organizations do you donate books to?
Falls River Books is community oriented first. We host open mics, writers meet ups, trivia tournaments, local author signings, and many other events. We also allow charities such as Girls Help, Brownies, Safe Haven for Cats, and other charities to use the store for fundraisers. Also Falls River Books founded the North Raleigh Farmers Market which is hosted right through our back door. We donate books to any charity that requests them--literally thousands of books per year.
6. The logo for Falls River Books is based on the silhouette of a dog. What dog is it based on? I get the impression that you like dogs and are interested in animal welfare.
Our logo is a likeness of Lily, my ten year-old Dachshund. An intern designed the logo for the Kendall Bookshelf, my first store in Miami. Lily used to be a store dog, but she became ornery when she got older and now resides at home with my family. We have always been interested in dogs, have participated in many dog welfare events in conjunction with the store, and we maintain a pet friendly business. By all means bring your pet with you.
7. What are some of your interests besides books?
I am interested in many pursuits beyond books. An internet junkie I read thousands of online articles per week on art, science, history and politics. I like to post the most interesting examples online. I am also passionate cook and to those ends I have recently opened a restaurant in Durham called the Sweet Tea Cafe. Also I am a film junkie, and like old classics, foreign films, quirky comedies, and just about anything else on celluloid.
8. What are some of the more unusual books that have come into the store?
The most unusual book I have encountered is extremely rare. It is an eighteenth century copy of Dance of Death by Holbein. Decorated with skulls and a skeleton holding a saber on its foredge, this copy is bound in human skin. I have yet to find a buyer for this book!
9. Is there a rare book you haven't been able to find yet?
Thus far I have located a copy of every book I have ever searched for. If I cannot find the book it probably never existed.
10. What is your motto in life?
Do onto others as you would have others do onto you. - Hillel