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Turning the Page

Richmond's literary scene sees the good, the brilliant and the year of the revolving bookstore (but no vampires).



Although no vampire blockbusters came out of Richmond in 2008, we had our share of the sublimely creepy in “Skulls” by Noah Scalin. We also had plenty to capture our imagination: Civil War re-enactments in “The Southern Cause: For the Love of Dixie” by Thomas Daniels; assassination conspiracy theory in “The Betrayal Game” by David Robbins; and a literary look at the modern American workplace in “The Way We Work,” edited by Peter Scheckner and Virginia Commonwealth University professor Mary Boyes. Former Richmonder Jenny Block made national headlines with her memoir, “Open: Love, Life and Sex in an Open Marriage.”

Literary Visitors

While Richmond talent was being published in 2008, Richmond institutions brought national talent up close and personal to read, rant, autograph, teach and console. Anne Lamott shared “Faith, Writing and Life Connections” with a packed house at the University of Richmond in March. And the 63rd annual Junior League Book and Author Dinner hosted the likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and economist Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational,” in May.

October kicked off with an irreverent and hilarious visit by David Sedaris complements of the Modlin Center. That was followed by Julia Alvarez's passionate and beautiful talk encompassing the irony of the removal of her novel, “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent,” from the required reading list of 11th-grade honors English students in Henrico County during the American Library Association's annual Banned Book Week in October.

New York Times bestsellers David Baldacci and Adriana Trigiani and Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis spoke to a sold-out audience at the sixth annual James River Writer's Conference at the Library of Virginia. Then the JCC's annual Jewish Book Fair in November played host to a handful of authors from Brooklyn, including rabbi and humorist Simcha Weinstein and graphic novelist Steve Sheinkin.


Among 2008's awards: The fourth annual $10,000 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize went to David Wojahn, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and director of creative writing. The university awarded its 11th annual Larry Levis prize to Matthew Donovan for “Vellum,” and its seventh annual First Novelist Award to Michigan author Travis Holland for “The Archivist's Story.” The Library of Virginia's 11th annual Literary Awards selected Helon Habila's “Measuring Time” for best new Virginia fiction while Richmond magazine and James River Writer's Best Unpublished Novel Award went to Richmonder Cat Baab for her novel, “I Love You, I Get Good Grades.”

Style Weekly reduced its 6th annual Fiction Contest in quantity but not quality, seeking flash fiction between 25 and 500 words. Readers turned in their short-short stories inspired by objects found at the Valentine Richmond History Center. VCU copywriting grad student Charles Hodges swept two of four places with his mini-tales, “List” and “Somewhere Outside the Capitol.”


It may have been a tough year to buy and sell houses, but the in the world of local bookstores, real estate has traded hands like notes in English class. In January Kelly Justice bought Fountain Books, owned by the Smythe family since 1985. In March, used bookstore the Book Room moved from 5468 W. Broad St. to the other side of the neighboring Chinese restaurant at 5458 W. Broad St., gaining 500 square feet of paperbacks to buy and trade.

In April it was decreed that after a dozen years of being managed by Follett Corporation, the Virginia Commonwealth University Bookstores would be taken over in a five-year contract with Barnes & Noble College Booksellers. Chop Suey and its offspring, Chop Suey Tuey, were consolidated to the Carytown store in October, because of a rent increase and owner Ward Tefft's desire to put all of his eggs and his energy into one basket.

While the battle cries and death throes of the mortgage and car industries have been shouted across national headlines on CNN, the book industries tribulations are more subtly read between the lines.

“It's tough,” says Rick Zander, owner of Carytown Books, which moved to Macarthur Avenue in 2004. “I've actually had to reopen my accounting firm, Tri-Star Accountancy. The Christmas sales are down, but we are determined to keep the bookstore open. When money gets tight, unfortunately books fall to the bottom of the list of must haves. Food, and housing and gasoline seem to take over.”

As an alternative to breaking the bank at the movies, Zander hopes to encourage families to spend more time together by instituting a family reading night in the first months of 2009 with discounts and other reading incentives. S

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