Getting Involved with the Arts in Berea

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The art most associated with a bookstore is the art of words on paper, of pictures in the shapes of pages, of human ideas collected within bindings.  But Joe and I take a personal interest in many arts areas beyond the literary.  Not only do we have books that are themselves about music, painting, sewing, building, acting, dancing, and photography, but each of us actually has been active a long time in other areas of the arts.  I have a background as a visual artist and craftsperson and Joe as a dance teacher and now contra dance caller.

We believe the arts are the living heart of our community.  Even while we focus on books we also share a broader mission with everyone who participates in and supports the arts in Berea.  We know that together the activities of storytelling, artmaking, song, and dance are the signs of a people and a town at our very best.  For all of us, it can be difficult to make the time for artistic experiences in our lives when we’re busy, and of course the tighter our budgets are the harder it can become to make financial commitments to the arts.

The bookstore has been involved with several local art exhibits in the past, and now we are delighted to be a sponsor for the current 3-D art exhibit at the Berea Arts Council that will be on display through September and part of October.  We teamed up with a local book club as co-sponsors, and were tickled to discover there are two local authors among the exhibiting artists.  What a talented community!   It’s an engaging and diverse exhibit, and there are so many powerful sculptures on display it was hard to choose which photos to share here.

In other not-so-new news we are donating proceeds from our bargain bin outside to the Berea Festival Dancers.  Books are between a dollar and a quarter each and you can fill any bag from the bin on Fridays for only two dollars.  It really helps us find more good home for books and 100% of the proceeds are donated.  We are sending funds to nonprofit and cultural groups.  If you aren’t familiar with the Berea Festival Dancers, they are a middle school and high school group that learns and performs historical dance, and it’s open to anyone who wants to join.  Joe isn’t working with that group, but if you are interested in a family-oriented contra dance opportunity, check out our post on Facebook for info about an upcoming Father-Daughter Dance he’ll be calling for down in Somerset.

With 11/22/63, Stephen King does time travel…

…and he does it well!

I haven’t even considered reading a Stephen King book for years.  I have nothing against him; I simply thought I had left his writing behind me twenty years ago with my teenager’s appetite for being shocked and terrified.  Thrillers are not my genre of choice these days, so I’ve not paid much attention to his steady offerings of the past decade.   However, there were quite a few hints and rumors about this one, and somehow it finally caught my attention that he’d moved into new territory and I should find out even if only to correct my ignorance about this popular author.  By the time I started the standard investigation and background check I use for books I consider offering in the store, 11/32/63 had already been out in hardcover for a while, had sold like hotcakes, and had over a thousand positive reviews.  No surprises there.  But that didn’t mean that I would love the book or that I should recommend it to friends and customers.  As I moved past counting stars and started reading exactly what the happy readers were saying, I grew curiouser and curiouser, and by the time the paperback edition finally came out last month it had made to the top of my personal reading list.

11/22/63 is a generous helping of pleasure reading in which time travel becomes a tool for a mission to stop the assassination of JFK.  For Jake Epping, our hero, changing the course of history involves making a pretty big commitment and rewriting his own life.  He’s further challenged by the fact that time, it turns outs, doesn’t seem to want to be changed, and there are surprises around every corner.  The writer and teacher turned accidental hero seemed blatantly autobiographical to me, but if so this Stephen King fellow is a down-to-earth likable guy and I have no complaint.  I particularly thought Stephen King set up his rules and consequences of time travel effectively and drew the reader into the emotional lives of his characters, which while handled well throughout was particularly effective when his ending leaves the reader with a sense of both deep loss and the kind of partial healing that real life tends to deliver.

I am generally pretty skeptical about writers who pop out a bestselling novel every year or two.  I find myself wondering how well-crafted their work could be and suspecting that their sales are the product of cheap thrills and formulas.  I won’t say that 11/22/63 is great literature.  I won’t say there were no cheap thrills, but I was paying too much attention to the story to notice how cheap the thrills were.  And I won’t even say this book doesn’t follow a formula, but we should remember that all literature including the classics follows formulas, and these repeating formulas seem to be etched into our primal storytelling souls.  The claim I make is that this a fun, well-told story, nether too dark nor too light, and it is unique enough to satisfy.  As I enjoyed the book, I was reminded that despite my skepticism about the popular, the main key to Stephen King’s long-term success is that he is an exceptionally gifted writer and a master storyteller.  He deserves his popularity.  I, for one, am giving his other recent titles a second look with an eye toward adding them to my reading plans.  I’m recommending 11/22/63 to any of my friends who enjoy pleasure reading with some substance, and I think it’s an especially nice choice for mystery fans who are in the mood for a change of pace.

Our Story

Robie Books has been a small family business since its beginning.  It had its grand opening as Robie and Robie: Fine Books in 2002.  Harry and Laura Robie, longtime residents of Berea, started this bookstore because of their personal love of books and this community.  Harry had retired from Berea College and was collecting books for himself as a hobby before he started selling books in an antique mall.  One story says that the accumulations from Harry’s book collecting had gotten so out of hand that he had to start selling books to maintain domestic peace; he’d actually been selling books for a few years before opening a this store.  He used the motto “A Browser’s Paradise” at the beginning and we have kept his tradition of offering diverse books for varied interests.  Harry brimmed with creative ideas and energy and enjoyed working as a true friend and mentor with his employees.  As business owners he and Laura had a responsive and egalitarian approach with their staff and always dreamed of eventually passing ownership of the business to their employees.

We have always sold a mix of used, remainder, and new books and we buy used books every day.  We have sold books online since we opened and currently sell used books through Alibris and Amazon, and that part of our business keeps us very busy.  With new books, we keep a mix of new titles on hand, but we have always been ready to order almost any title on request, and most special orders of new books are priced at 20% off list just as they were at the very beginning.  Even though we are a small business, on many books we beat the prices for even our biggest competitors and we can order all of the same titles you would find at a larger bookstore.

In 2009, the Robies followed through on their plans to sell the business to their employees, and Katlyn and Avena acquired the business, and changed to Robie Books to shorten the name while still honoring our founders.  Katlyn has recently moved on and now Avena and her husband Joe run the business together, working together as management, counter staff, data entry, shipping department, construction crew, and of course excited readers of new books!  We sure have lots of jobs!  It has been a challenge to maintain the business through volatile times, but we are blessed with a community of fabulous and loyal customers who love to read, and thanks to them our doors are still open and can be for many years to come.  We are glad to have the opportunity to provide this service to our community, and as always we hope we will see you soon.