Last year, author Sherman Alexie canceled his visit to Asheville, N.C., a result of his stand against the state's law banning transgender people from the bathroom of their choice. At the time, Barrett, the general manager of Asheville's Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, sent an op-ed to the New York Times. She expressed respect for the author and the need for protest, but Barrett, 53, also stressed how the cancellation caused her store to lose much-needed revenue through book sales as well as how readers lost "an opportunity to connect a beloved, charismatic author with fans in a city who would have been empowered by his outrage over the law.''
Barrett, who holds a master's degree in Russian literature and Slavic linguistics from Cornell University, heard from supportive readers far and wide. "People across the country who never heard of us before began ordering from us, and locals made a point to come in and show concern that we stay financially healthy.''
Fast-forward to 2017. The store is experiencing its greatest volume of sales to date. During a five-hour sale on New Year's Day, more than 500 customers came into the tiny downtown store. "Considering the political climate and the aftermath of the election and the repercussion of the HB2 legislation and its reflection on tourism travel, we are pleased,'' she said. We caught up with Barrett, who has been with Malaprop's since 1988, on Jan. 5.
What's on your nightstand?
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton. It's beautifully written. She credits Virginia Woolf as an influence, and it reads like I'm floating along in scenes the way I feel with Woolf. It's based on Margaret Cavendish, who was the first woman in England to write for publication. She was very ahead of her time.
What is Dutton's biggest attribute?
The beauty of her language. It's very lush and dreamlike, and it is a reflection of Margaret, who is eccentric, ahead of her time. I immerse myself in her language. It's unusual. Some chapters are paragraphs, and others are several pages. It's not a long book but the language is so important. You don't rush through it. Then, I'm also reading The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. It's a story on how African-Americans moved out of the South from 1915 to 1970. I haven't started it yet but customers and friends say it is incredibly well-written. I also have Robert Hicks' Orphan Mother. It's a story of a former slave and she's trying to uncover truth about her son who was murdered.
It's interesting that several books on slavery are on the bestseller lists at once.
Starting with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, there has been a spread in awareness with the issue, especially with things like the Black Lives Matter movement and all that's going on today. I'm heartened to see people looking for books for information on our culture. People come in asking for them. We don't need to hand-sell. It is wonderful that the publishing world is supporting these authors.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.