Like most indie bookstores, Curious Iguana, in Frederick, Maryland, is also a social hub, events space, and contributor to local schools, nonprofits, etc. Their mission—“Get to know your world”—is evident in their curation of international lit and donations to global causes. (Pins on a world map in the store show where they’ve contributed.) “We believe that doing well as a company and doing good in the world aren’t mutually exclusive,” says co-owner Marlene England. Here we talk with her about the “Iguana experience.”
How would you describe Curious Iguana bookstore to the uninitiated?
We’re a curious place—cozy at just under 1,000 square feet—and filled with amazing reads that, we hope, encourage readers to get to know their world a little better. Despite our small size, we’ve become a community gathering place, known for our book clubs, author events, and annual Read Broader challenge that encourages folks to read outside their literary comfort zones.
If Curious Iguana were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Well, there would have to be an iguana—not necessarily a live one, though—and a question mark. As far as the tenets…definitely a belief in the power of stories, an acceptance of others, and a willingness to listen and connect, a desire to make a difference. We embrace our quirkiness—and we’re also big believers in the “Iguana experience,” making sure everyone feels welcome and at home in our little bookish corner of the world.
The Curious Iguana makes monthly donations to international nonprofits. Can you tell us about this program?
We established Curious Iguana as a benefit corporation because we believe that doing well as a company and doing good in the world aren’t mutually exclusive. We made the determination early on to support global nonprofits since that meshes with the bookstore’s mission of “get to know your world.” Among the charities we’re helping this year are Room to Read, Questscope, Universal Hope Initiative, UPAVIM: A Guatemalan Women’s Organization, and Women for Afghan Women. It seems to resonate with our customers that even when they’re purchasing just one paperback, they’re contributing to the bigger picture of what’s happening in our world and helping us make a difference.
Which was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
We enjoy all our events, but I really love connecting authors with young readers who otherwise might not have that opportunity. When David Barclay Moore (The Stars Beneath Our Feet) visited us last fall, we invited several middle-grade readers from one of the local public housing communities to his author talk and signing. To see these kids so starry-eyed to meet David and get his autograph was really a special moment.
How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community?
We’re very fortunate to be in the heart of a thriving downtown, surrounded by so much history, arts and culture, and amazing food, not to mention the beautiful mountain landscape. Our books reflect what our customers love and what they most care about. Because our community is fairly progressive and socially aware, our cultural studies section is very popular, as are our literary fiction, political science, and history sections.
What are some of the bookstore’s top current handsells?
Oh, it’s a long list. We’re all pretty passionate about The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Anyone who walks into our kids’ room will likely hear about that book. We love Stray City by Chelsey Johnson and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, who visited us in March for a fabulous event. The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss is also a handselling favorite since we hosted her a few months ago, along with Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World by Matthew Prescott, who visited us in May. We all love Ghost Boys by the amazing Jewell Parker Rhodes, and we’re superexcited for the June 5 release of Heartseeker by Melinda Beatty, who just happens to be a bookseller here at the Iguana.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.