Humor and horror at the Maple Street Book Shops

When I heard that local humorist, playwright and author Bud Faust was appearing at the Maple Street Book Shop on Saturday to sign the second volume of his hilarious book Great Moments in New Orleans History, I couldn’t resist stopping by to finally meet the man himself. Not to mention, I’ve never actually been inside the “new” side of the duo.

If you’ve never been there, the Maple Street Book Shops consist of two gorgeous, shotgun-style homes that were converted into two separate stores, currently there’s a “new” side and a “used” side, both carrying a large selection of books.

I arrived a tad early because I wanted to visit the “used” side first. Out in front leaning against the telephone pole was a huge painted board listing the shops’ hours, “Fighting the Stupids Since ’64” emblazoned at the end. Researching their website, I discovered that this shop, originally owned and operated by two women, was the “hip” place to gather for intellectual youth and “free thinkers” struggling to support a leftist ideal in a conservative time.

As I browsed I noticed that they carried quite a few hardcovers (which can be unusual for a used bookstore) and several first edition signed copies from some very interesting authors. Quotes handwritten on long strips of paper adorn many of the bookshelves citing wisdom from figures like Richard Nixon. Right in front was a display for Banned Books Week which starts this Saturday, September 25th and runs to October 2nd. What banned book are you reading next week?

I left the “used” side and headed for the “new” as I didn’t have a lot of time to linger and discovered Mr. Faust sitting right up front. He recognized me at once and we talked about the new book. Enamored of the new cover art, Faust told how he had the work commissioned by local painter Raven Creature who apparently is often found selling her work in Jackson Square.

I’ll soon finish reading Great Moments in New Orleans History, Volume 2. I’ll let you know how it was, though I am sure it’ll turn out as good as his first. If you missed seeing him on Maple Street, I heard his next gig is at Octavia Books on Thursday, September 30th at 6 p.m. where he’ll be reading, too.

After procuring my signed copy, I browsed the rest of the store. I spotted Stephen King’s latest epic novel Under the Dome in trade paperback and I just couldn’t resist. It had been a long time since I’d enjoyed anything by King, but I decided to give his latest tome a chance.

Making my purchases quickly, I had to run for the door. If I stay too long in any bookstore, I will spend far more money than I ever intend…or can afford. Momentarily sated by my new purchases, I walked back to the car with a smile on my face. Now, which one do I read first?

Support your local bookseller! Visit Blue Cypress Books

On my way back home, I had a two-hour layover in LAX and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  Stretching, eating, roaming around and chatting on the phone only managed to burn about 45 minutes and I began feeling anxious. Wandering into one of the many bookstores, I found a title by Christopher Moore I’d been wanting to read and decided to buy it.  When the register flashed $17.69 at me in bright green numerals, I was shocked!  Don’t get me wrong, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is worth every penny, but I have been shopping at used book stores and library sales for too long not to be taken aback at the price.

I reluctantly parted with almost $18, an amount that could’ve scored me possibly three or four books if I was at home, and I couldn’t help thinking about how lucky I am to live in a city that still values the entrepreneur.  Although we still have access to mega-bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, New Orleans can still sustain the small bookstore owners like Octavia, Maple Street and my new neighborhood haunt, Blue Cypress Books.

I had purchased my first Christopher Moore novel, Practical Demonkeeping, at Blue Cypress Books for a pittance…$6 for a trade paperback in good condition. I recently went back to fill out my library a little more, spending no more than that same $18 for two books, one a signed hardcover!  The store had expanded some since my last visit, the back room became a sci-fi/fantasy area and the inventory just keeps growing.

Very often, especially on the weekends, you’ll find shelves and boxes of books being sold for as little as a fifty cents each…definitely my kind of sale.  Also, the owner Elizabeth is more than willing to track down rare and out-of-print books for the avid book-hunter…like myself.  I recently asked her to dig up a hardcover copy of Hip Cat, a children’s book by Jonathan London since my attempts have been completely unsuccessful. My fingers are still crossed in hopes of her prevailing where I failed so miserably.

Another really awesome thing about Blue Cypress Books is the individual attention you get from the owner who is obviously enamored with her profession.  How smitten with the written word would one have to be in order to risk financial catastrophe by opening up an independent bookstore? Especially considering the warehouse store competition they’d face?  Definitely a romantic vision worth supporting…

My soapbox statement for the day: Support your neighborhood bookstore and if you don’t have one in your ‘hood, you’re welcome to visit mine and stop into Blue Cypress Books at 8126 Oak Street.  Not only will you be promoting small business, you’ll be preserving our unique sense of individuality…one of many qualities that makes New Orleans among the most fascinating cities in the world.

Arcadian Books & Prints: A dream come true

Ever since I was a young girl falling in love with the written word for the first time, I formulated this image in my head of the perfect bookstore.  This fantasy locale would have a large bell over the door that jangled noisily when anyone ventured inside and the overwhelming scent of musty books would hit you square in the face as you entered and cling to you long after you left.

To make your way through the small store would require careful navigation around towering stacks of books and tall cases packed as closely as possible with every inch of space filled, dusty gems filed away for sale two or sometimes three rows deep.  The owner would have half frame spectacles worn on a silver chain around his neck and would only put them on when reading or calculating purchases on notepaper by hand because his ancient register was busted.  He would know every single title he had in his store and, regardless of how disorganized it might seem, he would know exactly where it was located in the jumble.

Ever since I imagined this perfect bookstore, this treasure trove of everything I hold sacred, I’d not discovered one single place that even came close.  It wasn’t until I met a fellow book lover here in New Orleans (my best friend Dani) who brought me to Arcadian Books & Prints.

If you’ve never been, you can find this gem tucked away at 714 Orleans Avenue behind the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter.  It’s a tiny shop that lies just around the corner from the fabulous art and antique shops on Royal Street and just steps away from the crowds on Bourbon…and if you aren’t looking for it, you could easily walk right by.  It is all I have ever dreamed of in a bookstore.

Not only does Arcadian possess almost everything I described above, but it also offers used books and  specializes in books on Louisiana history.  Sometimes on the steps in front of the tall, French doors to the shop, you will find a cardboard box marked “free” filled with books for anyone who might happen by.  I can’t help but be in love with this place.  If I lived nearby, I would stop by to search for literary gold on a regular basis.

You know what else?  I am not surprised that it took moving to New Orleans before I found the bookstore from my imagination.  Discoveries like these, ones so close to my desires and personal aspirations, only strengthen my belief that I belong here.  It seems to me that when your dreams at long last become reality, you know you’ve finally made it home.