The Bookseller Chronicles: Third Place Books

There are two Third Place Books locations. The original sits in the middle of a large strip mall in the tiny suburb of Lake Forest Park just outside of Seattle. The second is a part of the Ravenna neighborhood in Seattle proper. Both bookstores strive to bring a unique experience to their customers, acting as a social gathering space as well as bookstores.

Earlier this week I sat down with Erin Ball at the Lake Forest Park location. We found a table in the The Commons, a gathering space attached to the bookstore. Around us people studied, read books, hung out, and drank coffee from the restaurant. The din was minimal, and we were able to have a great conversation among the crowd.

Erin has worked at both stores off and on since 2008, before, during, and after attending law school. She recently became the assistant manager at the Lake Forest Park location. When I asked her if this meant she has decided that bookselling is a better choice than pursuing law, she laughs and says, “at least for now.”

[Judy Oldfield] Could you tell me in your own words the philosophy behind the “Third Place” in Third Place Books?

[Erin Ball] The philosophy is that you need three places in life. You need 1. your home, 2. your work, and 3. your community space. And that’s what Third Place Books tries to do with The Commons and the restaurant. It’s a place for people to gather, to have meetings, to study, that sort of thing. The bookstore is the centerpiece. They tried to replicate that at the Ravenna location, just on a smaller scale.

[JO] What does the Third Place mean for you personally? This is both a place where you work and a community space. Do those lines blur for you?

[EB] It does. Especially when I was at the Ravenna store, because there’s a pub in the Ravenna store. A lot of my friends would come visit there. After work we’d meet, and that would become more of a community space for me. It really does blur the lines. It’s hard to remember that you’re at work sometimes.

[JO] So it blurs it in a good way then.

[EB] In a good way, yeah.

[JO] Do you find there’s a difference between the locations? The Ravenna location is urban, it’s very close to the University of Washington. This one, the Lake Forest Park store, is a little farther out. It’s still very close to Seattle, but it’s more suburban. It’s in a strip mall.

[EB] Yeah, it’s a totally different feeling. This store feels a lot more like a community center, because Lake Forest Park is so small and this is the town center. People gravitate here. It happens during windstorms when the power is out, people come here. When it’s hot, people come here. And Ravenna doesn’t have quite the same feel. We still have a lot of customers who come in multiple times a week. But it’s less of a sit-down gathering place.

[JO] Is the tenor of each store different then? Is the clientele and the books that they’re buying any different?

[EB] It’s strikingly different. Here at Lake Forest Park it’s a little more conservative. Especially politically. In Ravenna there are a lot of young families and a lot more experimental fiction. It’s really interesting to see how how much of one particular title each store will sell. It’s crazy.

[JO] And you do a lot of book events here. You had Jimmy Carter come.

[EB] Yes, we did. That was very exciting. It was one of our biggest events. A thousand people went through the signing line. It was really fun, actually. We closed the store and it was really great.

[JO] What keeps you motivated to come in every day, year in and year out?

[EB] I find bookstores to be incredibly rewarding. Especially independent bookstores. Especially bookstores that the community revolves around. I think they’re experiencing a resurgence, which is great. . . . Books are my passion.

[JO] What books do you find yourself recommending over and over?

[EB] What I recommend most is probably a book called Stoner by John Williams. It’s not what it sounds like. It’s about a man named William Stoner. He’s born into farming in the early 1900’s but he ends up going to college and studying literature. It’s really just a quiet novel about his life. It’s so well done, and so perfectly paced and it’s sad and not sad and just really beautiful. And I feel like it appeals to so many people.

[JO] I find that a lot of booksellers carve out their niche in the bookstore that they work in. Do you have a special part of the bookstore that you’re really proud of?

[EB] Well I run the blog. But what I’ve started more recently is the Grown-Up Storytime that we have at the Ravenna store. I think it’s my favorite thing that I do. It’s the third monday of every month. They meet at seven in the pub in a secret room. We drink and read outloud. It’s mostly me reading. It’s gotten a really nice core following and I really enjoy it.

[JO] So you’re reading short stories—published works, right?

[EB] Yeah, published works. It’s not a writing circle. Usually I’ll do a short story, an article, and maybe a piece from the Internet.

[JO] What else is important to you, as a bookseller?

[EB] Books about women and by women. They should be read more. Especially by men.

When I started here a lot of the guys just didn’t read women and that was startling. Like some guys had never read Jane Austen.

[JO] And that’s crazy! People don’t realize that Jane Austen is satire. So it’s not the happy story of a marriage or anything like that. Yeah, they have a happy ending, but I almost feel like those are just tacked on.

[EB] To keep your interest, I guess.

[JO] Yeah. I’ve reviewed Bad Feminist and Everything I Never Told You, and I interviewed Dolen Perkins-Valdez for Libro’s blog. Because those were the books I was excited about and wanted other people to be excited about them.

[EB] There’s a website I get a lot of my reading lists from, FlavorWire. And they do pretty good lists. But there was another one I was looking at about the 50 coolest authors and there were two women on there. Two.

[JO] BookRiot’s pretty good.

[EB]. Yeah.

[JO] What’s on your TBR list?

[EB] Gosh. There’s a Claire Vaye Watkins book (she wrote a book of short stories called Battleborn a couple years ago). She has a new novel coming out called Gold Fame Citrus, which I’m really excited about.

[JO] Yeah, I want to read that too.

[EB] Yeah, I have the advanced review copy, I just haven’t gotten to it. The new Patti Smith book, because Just Kids was amazing.

[JO] I saw her at Seattle Arts & Lectures when she was promoting that one. And it was fantastic.

[EB] She’s coming again. And I’d love to go. She’s great.


What’s your favorite indie bookstore? Let us know!

Review: Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay’s favorite color is pink. She blasts hip hop in her car. She watches a great deal of Lifetime movies. She likes men and sex. A lot. She is also a feminist.

If one were to hold her up to the golden standard of feminism, she might not measure up. But she’s not trying to measure herself against any sort of label. She’s just trying to be herself.

Throughout this book of essays, read by Bahni Turpin, who punctuates each joke at just the right point, Gay slides easily from pop culture to politics to personal reflections. Sometimes she does all three in a single essay. She uses cultural phenomena as a springboard to talk about larger contemporary issues. In one essay she delves into the movie Bridesmaids. While admitting that she likes the movie, she hardly found it the revolution it was purported to be, because while combatting the stereotype that “women aren’t funny” it promotes many heteronormative and sizist stereotypes.

In “What We Hunger For” she uses the acclaimed Hunger Games books, which she devoured, to talk about the need for strong female role models. And she uses to this need to talk about her own experience with sexual assault as a teenager. In the most personal, most intense passage of the book, Gay opens a vein and bleeds for us, recalling the emotional details, her devotion to her attacker before the assault, and the hurls of “slut” she heard at school after. It is in such personal moments that Gay connects best with her audience, when her points are driven home better than any academic arguments ever could (though her PhD in rhetoric is apparent in each essay, if not sentence). Seeing her—bared, scarred, and messy—is to understand and accept her as human.

Gay doesn’t lay out any sort of thesis or offer any solutions in many of her essays, including in “What We Hunger For”. Rather she discusses things that mean a great deal to her and leave us to do with them what we will.

Gay gushes over Sweet Valley High, and rails against Daniel Tosh, the a comedian known for rape jokes. It is this sort of juxtaposition that leads Gay to describe herself as a bad feminist. That she can find solace in elements of pop culture while simultaneously criticizing others, or even the same elements, is disconcerting to her, and may also be for readers and critics.

Quote-Roxana-Gay-ENHANCED

But by the end of Bad Feminist, I didn’t think that Gay is, in fact, a bad feminist. I think she’s a very good feminist. To say otherwise is to either give into a stereotype of feminism that any thinking person would reject, or else to carve in stone the perfection of feminism that no earthly being could possibly aspire to.

Many of the essays in Bad Feminist concern race as well as gender. Once again she uses pop culture to talk about cultural trends, as she critiques Tyler Perry movies, and wishes for more movies like Love and Basketball, though it is no great cinematic feat. In fact, a great cinematic feat doesn’t always do it for her, especially when so many such films featuring black stories in the past several years revolve around slavery (12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained) or servitude (The Help). She wishes to see more dynamic movies concerning black people, rather than in roles of subjugation.

Beyond Hollywood, she considers the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Trayvon Martin in the press, the former whose light skin and tussled hair landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone, and the latter who is routinely called a thug. She also talks about the erroneous statistics that fly around, such as black men are more likely to end up in jail than go to college (there are about 600,000 more black men in college than in jail), and just how disheartening it is that such myths are so pervasive.

Some have criticized Bad Feminist for devoting so many essays to race. This is ironic, because it is exactly this sort of white-washed feminism that Gay, a black woman whose parents were born in Haiti, finds so distasteful. So much of feminism is devoted to helping white, middle-class, well-educated women, but there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all feminism. I believe that anyone of any racial or religious background can enjoy Bad Feminist, just as I believe that not only women will take interest in this book. Anyone, men and women, gay and straight, religious and not, black, Asian, Latino, Native American, and white, can find true pleasure in Gay’s wit, her critical analysis, her personal stories, and the podcast-like nature of listening to essays in an audiobook format.

Gay never asks us to agree with everything she writes. She is, after all, only trying to be herself.

Listen to a clip about Roxane Gay’s dissecting the movie Bridesmaids.


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