Quail Ridge Books

For me Raleigh, NC means three things: friends who live there, NC State football games (which also carries a strong connotation of cheese logs and beer) and Quail Ridge Books.  Although I’d heard so much about the popular independent from other North Carolinians and book bloggers, I confess, I’d never actually been. So when the prospect of visiting a friend there this weekend presented itself, I jumped on it, fully intending to squeeze in a trip to the store I’d heard so much about. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

For starters, when I arrived there at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon, I found the decently-sized store packed with people milling about, awaiting the arrival of a certain author: Alexander McCall Smith.

Unfortunately, the McCall Smith story ends there. He was late (by about an hour) and I had to get on the road so, alas, I never got to listen to the accented Scot author talk about his newest book, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. But I have no doubt he put on a show and that the folks at Quail Ridge supplied his fans with ample signed copies of his book. Plus, how cool for Quail Ridge for getting such a popular, internationally-acclaimed author!

In any case, it was hardly an arm-twist spending an hour in a bookstore waiting for the elusive author,  especially a bookstore such as Quail Ridge.

Here were my immediate impressions: 1) Upon entering, you are greeted with a respectably large section of local, North Carolina and Southern literature; 2) Notable poetry books are shelved right alongside fiction bestsellers and are given proper attention on staff recommendation and Good Reads shelves. The effect of this, coupled with the large poetry section in the back of the store (situated next to the expansive magazine rack) is the impression that Quail Ridge booksellers and its customers take poetry seriously.

I admit, I am not a poetry connoisseur (though I’d like to be), nor do I generally seek out the poetry section in a bookstore. And if I did, chances are I’d have to do just that: really look for it. But seeing how seriously Quail Ridge takes their poetry made me want to read more of it.

But, for me, the most thrilling and surprising niche in the store is the extensive collection of literary magazines, the like of which I’ve only ever seen in University libraries. I can’t tell you how many months have passed since I last flipped through a hard copy of a literary magazine; so many of them being now only viewable online, and, then, only a select few pages. And yet, these magazines are where up-in-coming authors go to get published for the first time. They’re where new authors are able to stretch their writer’s muscles and maybe even earn a few dollars (and reviews) to support themselves. And so, it was a joy to see so many all laid out, ready for purchase, tangible evidence that the craft is still alive and thriving. I also appreciated seeing The Carolina Quarterly rubbing shoulders on the same shelf as The Paris Review.

After practically breaking out into song and dance over by the lit mags, I spent the majority of my visit, predictably, in the fiction section, which was, by the way, never-ending. Another pleasant surprise: a generous portion of that section was reserved for international literature (what? You mean an actual shelf’s worth of Arabic literature? Aren’t we progressive!). The new releases and notable paperbacks greeted me with screams of “Pick me up! Take me home!” (is it just me, or are book designers really rising to the challenge these days?) and to these requests I complied. Unfortunately, I was on a budget and couldn’t buy all the titles I wanted, though I did come away with Jennifer Egan’s award-winning (and pot-stirring) new novel of interlocking stories, A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Final consensus: Two thumbs up for Quail Ridge Books and zero thumbs up for my bank balance.

Also, the visit inspired three more additions to my To Be Read list. They include:

Anthill by E.O. Wilson

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman

Which books are on your TBR list?

(Photo of bookstore from QuailRidgeBooks.com)

  1. Claire said:

    What was the look of the store? In previous articles I’ve imagined the bookstores you described as being ones with an old-timey, homey feel but from the photo you’ve posted this one seems delightfully modern. What was the energy of the room there? How do you think a shop like Main Street Books could interest a world class author to come and visit? Do you think that the bookshops in Raleigh ever team up with NC State to get big names? How can bookshops utilize relationships with the local universities? Meeting space? Special deals for students? Co-hosting authors and movies? Advertising? Publishing books and papers for students?

  2. Erin said:

    It was a more modern bookstore, in the sense that it wasn’t housed in a historic building. It was spacious, full of books and with a large area for hosting events (and it looks like they regularly host great speakers!). I think you’re right, they probably do team up with NC State and Meredith to get big names, and that is certainly an advantage for bookstores in college towns. It’s tricky appealing to college students, though, as they will typically go wherever has the cheapest priced books and the least hassle. But events that directly target students (and where attendance is perhaps required by profs) would be a good way to bring them in. Also, while some booksellers might feel this is cheap or selling out, I think having a sizable magazine rack is important for appealing to a younger crowd. They’re cheap and light and great to read in the cafe next door, and at the end of the day, at least it’s brought a new customer into your store.

  3. Bobbi said:

    Great post. I really wish the big bookstores WOULD go away, and there just be independant bookstores, period. I want you to go to Minnesota and visit my friends Pat and Gary sometime. They have a rocking bookstore in the basement of an apartment building. :) Very cool.

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