Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana, originally opened in 1957 as the Bookshelf. It moved to a chapel on the outskirts of town, was rechristened Country Bookshelf, and eventually made its way back downtown. The “Country” part of its name stuck, as did its status as a Bozeman institution. Montana native Ariana Paliobagis bought the 5,000-square-foot general bookstore in 2010. “I am the lucky latest in a line of all women owners for this bookstore that is considered a cornerstone of our community,” says Paliobagis. We talk with her about her bookstore, where booksellers “never judge a reader!”
How would you describe Country Bookshelf to the uninitiated?
We are more than you think! From the outside, the store’s entrance is small, but you will be rewarded by how much bigger it is on the inside than it first appears. We are a full-service local bookstore carrying books in all genres, with a desire to feature books you might not discover elsewhere, and we have plenty of comfy seating to let you browse and linger all day….We are particularly known for our shelf talkers—I regularly get stopped at the grocery store by customers who just have to tell me about their new favorite book that they bought based on those posted staff recommendations. We host events all year round, from major literary voices, up-and-coming local authors, monthly book clubs, and events in support of local community organizations.
If Country Bookshelf were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Literature—fiction and nonfiction—makes us better humans by expanding our horizons and showing the wide range of experiences and ways of being in the world and therefore fosters empathy, communication, understanding, and compassion. One of the primary rules is that no reading is bad or trash—we never judge a reader! We worship at the altars of literature, art, science, history, and humanity. Our patron saints are authors too numerous to name, and their ranks expand every day. For this we are grateful. Amen.
Which was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
For being a bit off the beaten path, we’ve been fortunate to have hosted some amazing local and nationally known authors. Recently, David Sedaris was an experience unlike any other. I was so nervous, but then he walked in and immediately started talking to me like we were old friends—and he treated all the booksellers and attendees the same way. He was very grateful when we sent a staff member’s kid to procure late-night ice cream. I also feel very proud about our recent One Book - One Bozeman program featuring Louisa Hall (author of Speak) on a panel with a computer scientist, a historian, and a high school English teacher. Months later I was stopped by a 20-something at a local dive bar who thanked me for hosting that event. Speakwas one of the most powerful books, personally, he had read, and he couldn’t believe that he got to talk one on one with the author….Thankfully, we haven’t had too many true disaster events—fingers crossed!
How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community?
Our stock and our events cover just about everything, but they often have an environmental, conservation, or regional bent reflecting our proximity to national parks and our community’s proclivity for outdoor recreation and preservation….We are regularly updating our displays to feature books chosen by the Dharma Center, the Montana Racial Equity Project, Wonderlust (an adult lifelong learning program), and many local book clubs.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
The variety of the books that young people come looking for right now is really heartening—there isn’t just one hot title or series at the moment, so they are really exploring the breadth of all the great new books coming out. As with all ages, graphic novels have been doing remarkably well.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.