Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Gnu's Room and the Value of Place - A guest post and request

  My sister, Laura, contributed this post..Please read it and consider helping if you're able!

I have a bookstore in my mind. Maybe you have one, too.        

My ideal bookstore is deceptively small, with nooks and corners that lead to wider rooms and eventually unsuspected upper floors that are better lit. There are more books that can fit on the shelves, ordered and categorized, but imperfectly, as if interrupted halfway and begun again later by someone with a new system. There's no espresso machine – not enough room – but there's honor-system coffee in one of those thermos cylinders, with plenty of powdered creamer and the little straws for stirring, and tables and chairs by the windows.

Yours might have a resident cat, or a children's section with hooked rugs and a perfect-condition copy of The Snowy Day on top of a box of puppets. It probably has better coffee. But I'm guessing you have one. A lot of us do. It's a common side effect of reading books or having read books or planning to read books in the future, when there's more time. It grows alongside the Mr. Darcy tribute pages and the arguments with Aloysha Karamazov and the speculative disagreements, over coffee or laptop, about the ethics of vampirism. You get to feel loyal to it, even when it isn't real, and when you find someplace like it in the real world, there's a sense of recognition and return.

Maybe that's how it is for you. I don't know. I'm really just guessing.

There's a bookstore called The Gnu's Room in Auburn, Alabama. It's a real place, with a pink and green piano and a huge, eclectic selection of used books on shelves and in boxes. There's dusty sunlight in the front and couches in the back. It's where I've found some of my new favorite authors – books I would never have thought to go looking for, if not for the particular form of serendipity a used bookstore creates. It's also the vital core of the literary and arts community in East Alabama.

That community is small, but it has a good heart. It's talented and energetic and earnest, and the Gnu's Room is its home.

This is where the poetry readings and the book events are. This is where local artists sell their work and young filmmakers get their first screenings, where the open mics are held, independent musicians get their start and where they come back to after their first tour of the South. The Auburn University Philosophy Club holds meetings and events here. The owners have worked tirelessly to make it a welcoming place for everyone who visits and a haven for people who love books and music. For anyone with a bookstore in their mind, it feels like coming home.

This summer, the Gnu's Room will close permanently unless it can raise the money to refurbish
and move into a new low-rent space down the road. They've started a Kickstarter to help make that happen:

The new location will give them the opportunity to expand their services as a community space, develop their new publishing arm, and work on new ways to earn revenue and keep the Gnu's Room sustainable and thriving.

Unfortunately, there's not much time. The offer of new low-cost space came after the owners announced that the Gnu's Room was closing. They weren't sure at first if they could make it work. It took longer to set up a fundraising campaign. By the time the Kickstarter launched, it was already summer – the hardest time for fundraising in a college town. For all their efforts, the Gnu's Room could still go under.

I'm asking you to help because I hope you will, if you have a bookstore in your mind, if in some way you recognize this small good place you've never been to. I'm making a reckless but not totally unfounded assumption that because you read Masha's blog, you and I have something in common: an appreciation, maybe even a love, of things that are bookish and small and good.
It's not something you're obligated to do, of course. It's not really your bookstore.

 I guess what I'm hoping you'll say is, Yes, it is.

I have a bookstore in my mind. I've had it for years. It changes and grows, but I know it when I see it.

When I first learned that the Gnu's Room was in danger of closing, one of the owners said to me, “People will pay $5 for a coffee, but they won't pay $2 for a book.”

I knew it was true – I'd just bought my own $3.50 coffee. I also know it doesn't have to be.

The Gnu's Room has been around for years, and with a little help it can stay around for many more. They have until June 14 to raise just $3000. That's 1500 cups of coffee -- 600 if you get the double soy mocha with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. There are more of us than that who know a good thing when we see it – enough of us who are loyal customers of the bookstores of the mind.

Do you recognize this place?

If you do – if you know and love a bookstore like the Gnu's Room – or if you wish you did – help us out! Pledge the price of a cup of coffee  – or pledge just $5 and get a book in the mail! Tell your friends there's a bookstore in Alabama that needs them. Post the link on Facebook or Twitter if that's your stomping ground.
Help us keep a small, good thing alive.

FOR THE COMMENTARIAT: Do you have a perfect bookstore in your mind? Does it have a cat, or cookies, or what? Is it more of a towering, potentially treacherous book-labyrinth or more of a lounge? (Or is it Google Scholar? That's ok, too). Is there a real place you love in your own town?

Thanks for listening!


  1. Good Lord! Who wouldn't pay $2 for a book? Who, I ask!

  2. NOT ME

    Actually, I had been trying to cut back on my impulse book-buying for a couple months before I learned the Gnu's Room might be closing, which made me feel (irrationally) that it was all my fault. Since they put all books on 50% off, that resolution has gone completely out the window.

    It would be great for me and my limited space if I could somehow warm to e-books but the love is not forthcoming. I think they're great -- I just can't really read them.