Heading into the Elliott Bay Book Company felt like a first date, or an interview. I wanted to make a good first impression, and I wanted to be impressed. I had a couple of starter questions at the ready. I hoped we wouldn’t be drowned out by loud Lumineers songs.
I’ve just gotten to Seattle and, as with any new city, I’m looking for my bookstore main squeeze. Friends kept recommending Elliott Bay. It was draped with “best of” medals. But would we click? Would our literary pheromones match?
Elliott Bay is quite different than my last beloved bookstore, Crawford Doyle. It’s huge and skylit, where Doyle is small, with a rolling ladder. It has an elaborate website and newsletters and a blog and Twitter. Crawford Doyle has its brilliant staff, a front window and a land line. But I could be open-minded! I could adapt.
I did a loop in Elliott Bay, circling the perimeter and making eyes at the shelves. The endcaps had great, unusual selections: Europa editions, a W.S. Merwin collection, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group. Over in the performing arts area, a display paired books with current cultural events, such as the scripts for Good People (now on at the Seattle Repertory Theatre) and Romeo and Juliet (Pacific Northwest Ballet).
I was warming up. A reading hummed along upstairs on the mezzanine. The stationery corner wooed me with terrific letterpress cards (how did you know my weakness?). The children’s book section included a nifty model castle for readings.
Then I noticed the chatter. Handwritten, signed staff recommendation cards flap from nearly every shelf. Most were detailed descriptions, while a few were impassioned pleas: “Read me! Read me! Read me!” I began to get a sense of the staff readers’ tastes. Matthew loves Cormac McCarthy and Nabokov’s “maddening beautiful knot,” so he might convince me to read local author JRD Middleton. One area was dedicated to books that start great conversations, such as The Master and Margarita and Alone Together.
Better yet: Inspired by My Ideal Bookshelf, the staff assembled individual shelves of their personal favorites. Leah collected Flannery O’Connor, Joan Didion, and Walker Percy. Graham plumped for the Odyssey, Walden, and a dictionary. And so on.
There’s also a 45-pound ball of twine behind the sales desk.
I think we’ll get along just fine.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 Tenth Avenue, (206) 624-6600
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