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!

Indie Picks: April 2015

At Libro.fm, we are big fans of independent bookstores. When browsing their shelves, I always stop and take a look at the staff recommendations, most often hand written, on a shelf-talker. There’s something enchanting about a slip of paper (the shelf-talker) coming from a knowledgeable and passionate bookseller that no algorithm will ever replace. These booksellers are the best book curators out there so each month we’re going to highlight what they are reading (and listening to). Here’s what Robert, Alex, Lizzie, Emily, Pete, Kevin and Elaine are recommending right now:


third-place-books

Third Place Books

Seattle, Washington

The-DinnerThe Dinner

By Herman Koch

“This is the kind of book you are ashamed of for liking so much. You should be outraged, disgusted, and horrified by this family and their awful behavior. And you are at times. But you also end up reading along with a devilish smile as you cheer on the narrator in a story that surprises over and over again.”

Robert
Third Place Books


The-Girl-With-All-The-GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts

By M. R. Carey

“It’s April but your favorite holiday is Halloween and you’ve a pressing need to be scared: look no further than The Girl With All The Gifts. The adults have plans for the children, but Melanie has plans of her own. Transitioning from writing graphic novels (Hellblazer, Lucifer) Carey’s debut novel is a refreshing thriller you simply need to read.”

Alex
Third Place Books


A-Tree-Grows-In-BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn

By Betty Smith

“A bittersweet tale of an impoverished girl, Francie, coming of age in an unforgiving world set at the turn of the 19th century, this novel explores the harsh realities of women in society, work, and family as seen through Francie’s eyes. Simultaneously heart wrenching, hopeful, and beautiful.”

Lizzie
Third Place Books


DelancyDelancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage

By Molly Wizenberg

“The author’s passion for food shines through in her personal and fun style, and all of the recipes sound delicious. I love the introductions to the recipes, which lean heavily on what’s on hand or in season. This isn’t just a book about food, though; her marriage and internal life carry equal weight with the development of the titular Seattle pizzeria.”

Emily
Third Place Books


green-apple-books

Green Apple Books

San Francisco, California

NudgeNudge

By Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein

“Nudge is a terrific book for anyone interested in how we make choices, public policy, politics and behavioral science. The way that governments and companies frame choices affects our behavior and well-being, often on a subtle level. A ‘nudge’: if Americans defaulted to donating organs upon death (with an option to opt out, of course) thousands of lives would be saved annually.”

Pete
Green Apple Books


I-ShudderI Shudder: And Other Reactions to Life, Death, and New Jersey

By Paul Rudnick

“This warm and witty memoir/fiction hits my comic sweet spot. I laughed out loud—OUT LOUD!—at least every three pages. Screenwriter, playwrite, and former film critic Rudnick, charmingly recalls detailed anecdotes from his childhood in Piscataway, off-Broadway productions, and showbiz personalities. One warning—some of these pieces appeared in  The New Yorker first.”

Kevin
Green Apple Books


book-passages

Book Passage

San Francisco, California

The-Secret-Wisdom-Of-The-EarthThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth

By Christopher Scotton

“Medger, Kentucky is a town that has been supported and then ruined by coal. Kevin and his mother are devastated. Kevin’s baby brother has died and his father blames Kevin. Fortunately, Kevin’s grandfather takes Kevin under his wing and shows him that he can be strong. Scotton brings us wonderful, complex characters including a brave hair dresser who stands up against the coal company’s removal of the mountaintops. You’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.”

Elaine
Book Passage


A-Fine-Summers-DayA Fine Summer’s Day

By Charles Todd

“It’s 1914, but Inspector Rutledge isn’t thinking about the war that is about to begin. He’s just become engaged and now he’s investigating the murder of a Dorset furniture maker with no known enemies who has been found hanging from a staircase. Soon there are more deaths. As this thriller unfolds, Rutledge has to choose between his duties to Scotland Yard and his patriotism. Charles Todd is a mother and son team who write with such clarity that it’s impossible to know who wrote which parts of their novels.”

Elaine
Book Passage


The-WhitesThe Whites

By S. M. Hulse

“Billy Graves’ problems as a detective with the NYPD got him assigned to the Night Watch. Invariably, each time his crew discovers something important, it gets referred to the day shift. Many cops speak of killers they know are guilty—yet can’t catch—as ‘whites’ after the elusive white whale in Moby Dick. When several ‘whites’ turn up dead, Billy suspects his former colleagues. Price/Brandt never hits a false note, as he balances Billy’s cop world with that of his family and old friends. I don’t know why Price has a different name here, but under either name, this guy writes a whale of a story.”

Elaine
Book Passage


What are you reading and listening to right now? Let us know in the comment section. To get more recommendations and audiobook news delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Libro.fm newsletter.