Store: Phoenix Books
Location: Essex, VT
Recommendation: We Others by Steven Millhauser
I feel as though I should start this post with “this bookstore visit was sponsored in part by Nancy Johnson.”
My friend Nan not only went to the bookstore with me, but gave me a gift certificate to Phoenix (because “this project is costing you a fortune!”).
I also would never have found the store without her. Even though I went to college in the area, I somehow confused Essex with Williston and without Nan I would have been driving around and around the wrong shopping center in search of a bookstore that lives in another town.
Unlike all the other stores I’ve visited to date, Phoenix Books is located in a shopping center (just not the one I was thinking of). It’s nestled in a row of outlet stores… Jockey’s, Vitamin World, Phoenix Books, Orvis.
It was quite refreshing to see an independent store in the midst of all the national brands.
Probably because of the location, the store is bright and open. And, thanks to the coffee bar positioned in the center of room, it smells like delicious.
As appears to be common practice, the new releases and best sellers were located at the front of the store with the genre sections and non-fiction further back.
At first I didn’t like how Phoenix displayed their fiction titles. Instead of one long bookshelf or a series of bookcases, novels are in short sections that jut out from the wall, kind of creating little alcoves. The books on the wall in between these juts are other genres, poetry, short stories, etc.
It felt a little fractured but the more I walked around, the better I liked it. Each alcove felt like its own private bookstore. And I found myself looking at books I wouldn’t have seen if the fiction section wasn’t spread out as it was.
I’m now convinced this layout is actually marketing genius.
The booksellers also make the coffee so I waited until the couple in front of me had their cappuccinos before talking to Phil, who was behind the counter.
Both Phil and his co-worker were very interested in the project and they asked the name of this blog. (I really need to print up some cards to hand out!)
When I asked for his recommendation, Phil asked who some of my favorite authors are, a question that for some reason always make me stumble.
I usually throw out a couple of names (Wally Lamb, Ian McEwan, Christopher Moore), maybe tell them what I’m currently reading and then ask them to name the best book they’ve read recently.
Phil is a fan of short stories and asked if I was up for a collection. I said I was because I try not to limit myself, but I do find short stories a bit of a challenge.
I’ve never been able to pinpoint why. I often hear people say that they don’t like short stories because they become attached to the characters and don’t get to spend enough time with them.
That’s not my problem. In fact, I think it might be the opposite. I don’t spend enough time with short story characters to get attached.
I also have this weird feeling that short stories are inherently juvenile. It’s ridiculous really. There are plenty of mature, beautifully written short stories by extremely talented authors, but the idea of stories seems a bit silly to me for some reason.
I’m participating in a flash fiction workshop right now and every time I read, I feel like a little girl at show and tell.
It’s a prejudice I need to get over.
But I didn’t tell Phil all that and he recommended We Others by Steven Millhauser. There’s a quote on the book that compares the author to some of the literary greats and Phil said he agreed, that it was one of the best collections he’s read.
I look forward to reading it myself and overcoming my (mild) short story aversion.
While exploring the rest of the store I found a nice selection of books, a good kids section and a lot of fun doodads. The feature lots of local authors too.
That’s one thing I’ve grown to love about indies, they really support area authors.
Phoenix Books has a sister store in downtown Burlington that I can’t wait to visit too. And my brilliant friend Nan made sure that the left over amount on my gift certificate can be spent there, so I have a little added incentive.
I’ve really enjoyed visiting the Vermont bookstores that been tucked into old houses and small town storefronts, but Phoenix proves that a great bookstore isn’t about location.
It’s what’s inside that counts.