“Where are all the independent bookstores?” I wondered every time I read in a glossy magazine about the new independent bookstore trend.
Ten years after the rest of the world – a typical time lag for a trend to reach the midwest – independent bookstores are springing up on the landscape. There is Dog-Eared Books in Ames, Iowa, a university town that, tragically and improbably, lacked an independent bookstore for 15 years after Big Table Books, a co-op bookstore, closed in 2006. Dog-Eared Books, which opened in 2021, specializes in new books, with a small selection of used books. It also has a coffee bar and a dog.
I was thrilled and intrigued to learn that another new indie bookstore has arrived on the scene. Reading in Public opened this month in a sleek, streamlined new building in Valley Junction in West Des Moines, Iowa.
“Read books and be kind to people” is the Reading in Public motto. I have it on a bookmark.
Walk into the chic urban space and the polite bibliophiles step back and part like the Red Sea. There were no walking crashes, just a couple of narrow squeeze-bys, when three or four people tried confusedly to pass in different directions. (The store was crowded.)
The owner, Linzi Murray, a graphic designer who moved back to Des Moines from New York to start the bookstore, has a zealous philosophy of bookselling. She told a local newspaper, “For me, curation is my No. 1 priority. It’s [about] getting the books in front of the people that may never find them because you never know what book is going to meet the person at the right time and what impact it could have.”
I am impressed by the collection of books. A carefully-curated display on top of low shelves enticed me to examine books I had not heard of. And you can sit on comfortable stools in front of these shelves, so you can see the books at eye-level.
Of course, I was mesmerized by the floor-to-ceiling shelves. There were so many books I wanted. Should I buy Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch, I wondered. Or Geraldine Brooks’s Horse, which I was unable to find before Christmas? I also considered a Mexican novel by a writer I had never heard of.
One customer clutched a copy of Louise Erdrich’s Pulitzer-winning The Night Watchman. (“Good choice,” I almost said.) Another browser intently perused anthologies of short stories. A couple waited at the coffee bar while the barista fussed over the brand-new espresso machine.
My one complaint: I wish Reading in Public and Dog-Eared Books had better backlists.
But these booksellers probably know their audience. People do like to keep up with the latest books.
I’ll be back.
And, let’s face it, a good backlist isn’t built in a day!