JUSTIN SOUTHER: BOOKSTORE MANAGER, MALAPROP’S BOOKSTORE

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Welcome to the second installment in my bookseller interview series! This time around, I’m chatting with Justin Souther, Senior Buyer and Bookstore Manager at Asheville, NC’s Malaprop’s—one of my favorite literary haunts. The store’s philosophy is perhaps best summed up by Justin himself: “We want someone wandering through the store to find both the books they know they want, and also the ones they didn’t know they needed.” If you haven’t been to Malaprop’s, you’re missing out.

Welcome to the blog, Justin! Whenever I visit Asheville, I make it a point to come into Malaprop’s—it’s such a special place. Can you share a little bit about what makes your bookstore unique, and what role it plays in North Carolina’s literary community?

I think there are a number of factors that make the store special. The biggest is that, over the 36 years we’ve been open, we’ve been blessed with a great community that really supports us. And, in turn, we want to support our community because of that. So a lot of what we do is focused on being a community space. 

And lastly, we simply want to put good books in the hands of our patrons. We put a lot of time in effort looking for those special titles that you might not find everywhere, because we feel like that’s one thing that makes a bookstore special. We want someone wandering through the store to find both the books they know they want, and also the ones they didn’t know they needed.

What advice would you give authors who want to know the most effective way to work with Malaprop’s? Any major dos or don’ts?

The main thing is to understand the importance of bookstores. Online retailers have changed bookselling, but I think it’s important to remember that bookstores support authors as a physical space. One of the most exciting things for me is finding a book or an author I feel is overlooked and getting the opportunity to speak with readers face-to-face about those books, and to help get the books we feel are important into readers’ hands. No algorithm will do that. Obviously, we’re biased, but I think that actual interaction — not just us with customers, but authors with booksellers — is super important.

In-person author events can be fantastic…or they can embody the proverbial ‘what if I threw a party and nobody came?’ Do you have any advice for authors who don’t have a huge following yet . . . what are some techniques they can use to help make readings a success for both themselves and the bookstore?

I think simply understanding that even a small event can be an opportunity is important. Making a connection with one reader or one bookseller can make all the difference. It’s probably not something I should admit, but some of my favorite events have been really small, where that more personal time with an author and a few attendees makes for a more interesting conversation. That’s also probably not something an author wants to hear, but any event, even the smallest, can be an opportunity to build an audience.

Why is the presence of indie bookstores so important, and what can readers do to support them—other than, of course, buying books?

Like I mentioned before, Malaprop’s is really a reflection of the Asheville community, and I think any good bookstore is the same. That should always be the goal. I think if you took bookstores out of their communities, something vital and unique is lost. I’d hate to imagine an Asheville without a Malaprop’s, or any of the great stores we’re lucky to have in such a small city. 

That community is also how readers can support bookstores. We’re a community space — come have a cup of coffee, come to an event, join a book club, come make a friend with a bookseller. 

What books are you hand-selling right now? Any fantastic summer reads you’d recommend?

I’m still excited about my favorite book of last year, Hernan Diaz’s IN THE DISTANCE, which was just a Pulitzer finalist. It’s such a beautiful, quiet and imaginative book, and I’m glad it’ll be finding a larger audience now. I’ve been really into Elizabeth Catte’s WHAT YOU ARE GETTING WRONG ABOUT APPALACHIA. As a native of the mountains, I know all of the preconceived notions of Appalachia, and know personally how they’re faulty. Catte’s book lends a ton of nuance to the region. It’s not your typical summer read, but Catte is such a intelligent and approachable writer on a subject that’s more complicated than a lot of people realize that it’s pretty essential. I know that word gets thrown into a lot of blurbs, but I think it’s an honest assessment here. 

ABOUT THE BOOKSELLER

Malaprop’s Senior Buyer and Bookstore Manager, Justin Souther’s lived in and around Asheville his entire life, spending his formative years in Fletcher and Hendersonville, and eventually earning a creative writing degree from UNC-Asheville. His favorites are a mix of translated fiction, weird Southern lit and Kurt Vonnegut.

Twitter: @malaprops

Instagram: @malapropsbookstore

Facebook: /malapropsbooks

Website: www.malaprops.com

Welcome to the second installment in my bookseller interview series! This time around, I’m chatting with Justin Souther, Senior Buyer and Bookstore Manager at Asheville, NC’s Malaprop’s—one of my favorite literary haunts. The store’s philosophy is perhaps best summed up by Justin himself: “We want someone wandering through the store to find both the books they know they want, and also the ones they didn’t know they needed.” If you haven’t been to Malaprop’s, you’re missing out.

Welcome to the blog, Justin! Whenever I visit Asheville, I make it a point to come into Malaprop’s—it’s such a special place. Can you share a little bit about what makes your bookstore unique, and what role it plays in North Carolina’s literary community?

I think there are a number of factors that make the store special. The biggest is that, over the 36 years we’ve been open, we’ve been blessed with a great community that really supports us. And, in turn, we want to support our community because of that. So a lot of what we do is focused on being a community space. 

And lastly, we simply want to put good books in the hands of our patrons. We put a lot of time in effort looking for those special titles that you might not find everywhere, because we feel like that’s one thing that makes a bookstore special. We want someone wandering through the store to find both the books they know they want, and also the ones they didn’t know they needed.

What advice would you give authors who want to know the most effective way to work with Malaprop’s? Any major dos or don’ts?

The main thing is to understand the importance of bookstores. Online retailers have changed bookselling, but I think it’s important to remember that bookstores support authors as a physical space. One of the most exciting things for me is finding a book or an author I feel is overlooked and getting the opportunity to speak with readers face-to-face about those books, and to help get the books we feel are important into readers’ hands. No algorithm will do that. Obviously, we’re biased, but I think that actual interaction — not just us with customers, but authors with booksellers — is super important.

In-person author events can be fantastic…or they can embody the proverbial ‘what if I threw a party and nobody came?’ Do you have any advice for authors who don’t have a huge following yet . . . what are some techniques they can use to help make readings a success for both themselves and the bookstore?

I think simply understanding that even a small event can be an opportunity is important. Making a connection with one reader or one bookseller can make all the difference. It’s probably not something I should admit, but some of my favorite events have been really small, where that more personal time with an author and a few attendees makes for a more interesting conversation. That’s also probably not something an author wants to hear, but any event, even the smallest, can be an opportunity to build an audience.

Why is the presence of indie bookstores so important, and what can readers do to support them—other than, of course, buying books?

Like I mentioned before, Malaprop’s is really a reflection of the Asheville community, and I think any good bookstore is the same. That should always be the goal. I think if you took bookstores out of their communities, something vital and unique is lost. I’d hate to imagine an Asheville without a Malaprop’s, or any of the great stores we’re lucky to have in such a small city. 

That community is also how readers can support bookstores. We’re a community space — come have a cup of coffee, come to an event, join a book club, come make a friend with a bookseller. 

What books are you hand-selling right now? Any fantastic summer reads you’d recommend?

I’m still excited about my favorite book of last year, Hernan Diaz’s IN THE DISTANCE, which was just a Pulitzer finalist. It’s such a beautiful, quiet and imaginative book, and I’m glad it’ll be finding a larger audience now. I’ve been really into Elizabeth Catte’s WHAT YOU ARE GETTING WRONG ABOUT APPALACHIA. As a native of the mountains, I know all of the preconceived notions of Appalachia, and know personally how they’re faulty. Catte’s book lends a ton of nuance to the region. It’s not your typical summer read, but Catte is such a intelligent and approachable writer on a subject that’s more complicated than a lot of people realize that it’s pretty essential. I know that word gets thrown into a lot of blurbs, but I think it’s an honest assessment here. 

ABOUT THE BOOKSELLER

Malaprop’s Senior Buyer and Bookstore Manager, Justin Souther’s lived in and around Asheville his entire life, spending his formative years in Fletcher and Hendersonville, and eventually earning a creative writing degree from UNC-Asheville. His favorites are a mix of translated fiction, weird Southern lit and Kurt Vonnegut.

Twitter: @malaprops

Instagram: @malapropsbookstore

Facebook: /malapropsbooks

Website: www.malaprops.com

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