Local arts luminaries, too luminous to mention, mingled among the books downstairs and the art galleries upstairs. I couldn't reach for a book without bumping into someone with better taste than I, reaching for the volume next to mine. The ultrastylish improv duo Them Against Them noodled in the back room, drawing applause when people didn't have their hands occupied with books. On my way upstairs I met artist Ed Trask, taking a break from painting the Chop Suey mural on the outside wall (look for the supersize takeout box in the sky next time you drive down Cary Street, across from El Rio Grande restaurant).
Trask and some three dozen other artists have work for sale in four upstairs rooms. This showing will last for several weeks, until more books are shelved up there. However, owners Ward Tefft and Pat Doyen plan to continue hanging bimonthly exhibits in one of the upstairs rooms. Downstairs, they've made rolling shelves that will be moved aside to create performance space for readings, live music and film screenings.
Tefft told me they had less than half their stock of 10,000 titles on the shelves that night. Most books I saw were published in the past 30 years this is no grandma's attic or library graveyard and are in excellent shape. Of the dozens I picked up, none were shabby, and only two had a previous owner's name on the front flap. The selection leans heavily towards the arts and humanities, though just about every subject area is or will be represented: Tefft said he has "about three" books on the Civil War.
I was relieved to see that although the store advertises rare books, on opening night there was only one glass cabinet of untouchables, which, oddly enough, seemed to be mostly Don Delillo paperbacks. I'm all for Chop Suey's survival, which probably depends on their ability to sell to high-end collectors, but really, I've never wanted to shop in a bookstore where the dust in the books is worth more than the money in my pocket. Is it too much to ask of a provincial capital to have a medium-sized, all-around, Jackie Collins-free used bookstore?
On opening night, Doyen appeared surprised that people were actually pulling books off the shelves and looking at them. "I thought people would just come for the music and to look at the art tonight," she said. Yes, the extent of our deprivation is shocking. I overheard a poet already muttering about how he was going to pay for all the books he wanted to buy. One woman had a copy of Edward Gorey's "Amphigorey" tucked under her arm as she slid a large hardback from the Architecture shelf. "Another Frank Lloyd Wright is just what this country needs," she sighed.
Sure, maybe. I say let "Fallingwater" fall down. Just keep the shelves full at Chop Suey and I'll be fine. Angela Lehman-RiosChop Suey Books
1317 W. Cary St.
Monday - Friday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.,
Saturday 12 p.m. -
8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.