Sunday, October 17, 2010

Postcards from Charleston, West Virginia

Taylor Books in Charleston WV,
photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, used by permission

We’ve just returned from a spur-of-the-moment trip to Charleston, West Virginia for the West Virginia Book Festival. Despite a newly-suffered knee injury, the lure of an autumn weekend getaway was just too tempting – especially since I’d have the chance to attend Meredith Sue Willis’ workshop on Saturday and a reading by Jayne Anne Phillips on Sunday.

Meredith Sue Willis at West Virginia Book Festival,
photo copyright by Dory Adams

We packed our bags, grabbed our cameras, and drove south. These spontaneous road trips often turn out to be some our best journeys because everything sort of unfolds as we go. No planning, no expectations – no disappointments. We stopped to buy a cane and a knee brace along the way, and on Saturday morning I hobbled through the book fair as best I could. We arrived in time to visit a few of the exhibits before the workshop started, so we browsed at the book tables of West Virginia University Press and Ohio University Press. Meredith Sue Willis’ workshop “Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel” was popular and well-attended, the room filled to capacity. What a pleasure it was to finally meet this wonderful writer who already seems like an old friend. After the workshop, Kevin took another stroll through the exhibition hall while I sat in the lobby to rest my knee. He returned with some unexpected finds: first editions of Chuck Kinder’s Snakehunter and Richard Currey’s The Wars of Heaven, both with dust jackets and in nice condition.

Taylor Books Cafe,
photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, used by permission

A trip to Charleston is not complete without a visit to Taylor Books, which is one of my favorite bookstores of all time. The bookstore, gallery annex, and café are in connected buildings with common floor space. Taylor Books has everything: a nice stock of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books; a large selection of magazines and periodicals; an art gallery; an art studio; a coffee shop with fresh baked scones and other pastries (baked by the owner, Ann Saville); tables and comfy chairs; and a knowledgeable staff. They even have squeaky wood floors to provide the ultimate bookstore browsing ambience. Best of all, Taylor Books values West Virginia’s writers by keeping their books in stock and on display – something you won’t find at a chain store (where the shelf-life of a newly published book these days, as Meredith Sue Willis said in her workshop, is less than that of yogurt).

View from gallery to bookstore and cafe at Taylor Books,
photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, use by permission

While I sipped a coffee, nibbled at a lemon bar, and perused a stack of books at my table in the coffee shop, Kevin shot the photographs for this week’s postcard from the road. We listened to the live music (Taylor’s has live music in the café Friday and Saturday evenings) and then made a few purchases. I knew I needed to get back home to Pittsburgh and take care of my knee, and that meant we were going to have to skip Jayne Anne Phillips’ reading on Sunday. The disappointment of that was eased by finding a brand new signed first edition of her 1994 novel Shelter at Taylor’s. That’s how it is with spontaneous journeys – you have to roll with it , and take great pleasure in the unexpected finds.

Taylor Books Cafe,
photo copyright by
Kevin Scanlon, used by permission

If your travels take you to Charleston, WV, be sure to visit Taylor Books, located at 226 Capitol Street. It’s definitely a destination in itself – and worthy of postcards from the road.

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