Ann Saville (who used to perform first-person portrayals of Eleanor Roosevelt) founded the multifarious Taylor Books in 1995. The Charleston, West Virginia, bookstore has since added inventory, a cafe, an art gallery, a ceramics studio in the basement, a craft beer bar, used books, and a 29-seat microcinema with weekly screenings of foreign and independent films. We talked with manager Dan Carlisle about the bookstore’s commandments, presidential drop-ins, and philosophical youngsters.
How would you describe Taylor Books to the uninitiated?
For Charlestonians, Taylor’s is like a home base: a place you always visit when you’re back in town, a place where you take your out-of-town guests, your last stop before a road trip to the Midwest. Students study, organizers meet, lawyers lunch. I think the community invests a lot of pride in Taylor’s, and indeed they should, as they are really the force that keeps the place going. We who work here are equally proud to be part of such a respected institution.
If Taylor’s were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Thou shalt not use speakerphone in the store. Even if thou art old and hard of hearing.
Thou shalt purchase more than thou shalt read.
Thou shalt judge a book by its cover.
Thou shalt not smirch the scones of Ann.
Thou shalt adopt a pet.
Thou shalt not accidentally order 42 copies of Infinite Jest whilst trying to order two.
Thou shalt read only the first five pages of Infinite Jest.
We abide by these tenets in the name of Ann E. Saville, who sits above the bookstore in the Garden of Earthly Delight and under the Great Eye of Knowledge.
What was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
One Sunday morning my phone rang with the store’s number on the caller ID. It was Rachel [a Taylor’s bookseller], and she was having trouble ringing up a customer with a credit card. As I was talking her through the necessary steps to reboot the machine, she was interrupted. “Hold on.” She put the phone down. I could hear muffled voices coming through. “He’s coming in now,” I heard her say. She picked the phone back up. “OK, I guess Bill Clinton is coming in the store right now.” “Right now?” “I guess so.”
I got my family up and dressed and rushed down to meet the former president, who was shopping around the bookstore with our senator Joe Manchin. Clinton talked to everybody, snapped selfies, and fooled around with some kids. He was just like Phil Hartman’s impersonation of him on SNL. He bought Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild, The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt, and Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. While we’ve been thrilled to work with Stephen King, Bernie Sanders, and Bill Nye, the spontaneity of Clinton’s visit was most memorable.
What trends do you notice among young readers?
It seems like younger readers, as always, want to be challenged. They gravitate toward the philosophy and poetry sections. Young folks have also found a great resource in our new(ish) used book section, a great place for those trying to figure out their tastes.
What are some of your top current handsells?
That’s sort of synonymous with staff picks. So for us that would be: Trampoline, an illustrated novel by Robert Gipe, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci, and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.