Time to take stock, look forward, look back…at Reed Books and The Museum of Fond Memories and the Library of Thought—all founded in 1980 by owner Jim Reed.
Here is the transcript of a recent interview with Jim:
Q: Reed Books will soon begin its 33rd year of operation. Looking back, why did you create this business?
A: I had no choice. My previous career stalled out and burned out. It was time to do something good for a change.
Q: I sense that you do not consider Reed Books to be a business.
A: You sense correctly. This job is literally a calling for me, as corny as that might sound. I feel I’m providing a public service to the community and to the world at large.
Q: How so?
A: I am rescuing orphans (books and artifacts) from certain perdition, and giving them new life. I adopt them, clean them up, put them in a safe place and house them comfortably until new adoptive parents come along to find and purchase them. Somebody’s got to do it, so it might as well be me. I could have become a priest or an activist or a true believer or an out-of-work actor, but this, it turns out, is what I know how to do best.
Q: You must have a lot of energy to spare. I notice that you also write books and columns and stories about your life in Alabama, and that you do some acting, performing and public speaking on the side.
A: I don’t know whether it’s called energy, or just a continuing and compelling need to tell my story, my stories—just in case somebody’s paying attention. All my writings are about my life and the lives of those around me, and my mixed feelings about these lives.
Q: Where do these stories show up?
A: I do a column (a “blast”) each week, for anybody who wishes to receive it; I write a blog for fans; I tweet and “facebook” whenever I feel it’s appropriate; magazines and anthologies occasionally print my pieces; I publish a book now and then when it seems the best way to communicate to a particular audience; and I speak to any group of people who will have me, about my excitements—my love of writing and collecting and communicating. That does sound like a lot of activity, doesn’t it?
Q: It’s hard to keep up with…so let’s focus on your love of Downtown Birmingham and your simultaneous love of Reed Books and the Museum of Fond Memories. Where does that come from?
A: I’m not sure I can answer that question in a traditional way. I write poetic prose because I see things poetically. So, for what it’s worth, here’s the gist of it: I am the center of my Universe. Each of us is the center of a personal Universe. Therefore, Downtown and Southside Birmingham constitute the center of the Universe, because that’s where I spend most of my time. Now, stay with me: In order to survive in my personal Universe, I have to take care of it, nurture it and respect it. I do this because my Universe is Me and I am It. I’m passionate about this Universe and everything that it contains—customers, friends, fellow denizens, the streets and avenues, the traffic, the chaos, the laughable politics of it all. This is my world and it is most entertaining!
Q: So you disagree with those who have given up on Birmingham, those who tell us to turn out the lights and leave it to its own fate?
A: Of course I disagree with this. That would be like giving up on yourself, your Universe. I’m disdainful of those who criticize without celebrating the beauty of the city and its people, when we could all be standing together and protecting this gorgeous creation, this Magic City.
Q: For someone who has never visited Reed Books, exactly what is it that you sell?
A: We sell memories, and we sell the objects that evoke those memories.
Q: Can you give some examples?
A: When you see our display of elementary school readers, the moment you spot the ones you had as a child, you are transported back in time. For instance, we carry original Dick and Jane (and Sally) readers, Blue Back Spellers, McGuffey Readers, Elson Readers, Landmark series books, Childhood of Famous Americans books, and so on.
Q: What about non-school books that grown-up children still love?
A: Sure! We have original books starring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden and Five Little Peppers and Bobbsey Twins and Boxcar Children and Uncle Wiggily and the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland and Tom Swift, and on and on and on.
Q: I thought those books had disappeared forever.
A: That’s part of the fun of being Reed Books. Everything you thought your Mother had thrown away, we carry! If you believe it’s out of date, it’s here—because I believe that nothing is ever out of date. It’s at the shop, waiting for you to re-discover it.
Q: You can’t possibly carry everything that’s no longer popular!
A: Try us! We have new books and old books—some dated as recently as 2012, some dated as far back as 1579. And the beautiful thing is, we’ve been in business for so long that we can obtain any old book that’s not on our shelves at the moment. We know where all the other old-time bookdealers are, and they provide us with loads of goodies. We live in the past and love it!
Q: OK, so you really do have every book known to humankind, or you can obtain it by request. But what about all the non-book items in the store? Why do you carry them?
A: Everything in the store serves as a memory-stimulator, a fantasy-evoker. When you find an old dial telephone, you are immediately reminded of old times and old reading material that surrounded that phone. When you see a Roy Rogers comic book or a photograph of Birmingham’s old train terminal building, you get the urge to go back in time and regain your old teddy bear or your copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses. All these objects serve as time machines, and Reed Books is a safe haven you can use to travel back and forth in time.
Q: I understand remembering the past, but you also claim you wax nostalgic about the future.
A: We have great science fiction and fantasy fiction and adventure fiction, much of which takes place in the future—authors such as Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and Shirley Jackson will escort you to alternate futures, utopias and dystopias…the kind you read about when you were young.
Q: I think I get it. You’re saying you’ve invented a shop that can take you anywhere your imagination, your memory, allows you to go?
A: I’ve been tempted to place an arched sign over the doorway that reads, SANCTUARY!
Q: Do you consider yourself to be a retiree?
A: Land O’ Goshen! I’m not retired, nor will I ever retire willingly. I’ll keep going till they drag me off to the assisted living center or the morgue. I’m from a workaholic family—my father kept on working, career after career, and I can’t see myself sitting at home and watching daytime television. I haven’t found time to retire. Besides, I have to make a living!
Q: Do you have plans to expand or transform Reed Books and the Museum of Fond Memories?
A: I’m planning a number of exhibits in the future, just to spice things up and gently “educate” folks. The next show begins in April, 2013. We’ll be exhibiting books and papers and magazines published during Birmingham’s year of racial upheaval—1963. It will be both disturbing and inspirational.
Q: What else is in Reed Books’ future?
A: I’ve always wanted to do a Dead Writers reading and autograph party. Since most of the writers we sell died long ago, they deserve some attention, some noursishment. I keep trying to get in touch with dead authors, but so far I haven’t gotten any replies to my e-mails.
Q: What’s the most exciting item in the store?
A: The latest artifact I acquire is the most exciting one. Each acquisition gives me a new rush and teaches me something I didn’t know.
Q: Why would I want to purchase an old book or a used one, when I can obtain a freshly-printed one at a chain store, or download an electronic version?
A: I actually don’t know why you would want to do that. An early printing of a book has gravitas, its pages have absorbed something of its previous owners, it now possesses character and lovely battle scars. When you hold a used book, you are communicating with the past regrets and future fears of its owners and its author, their joys and sorrows, their lives, for goodness sake. And you’re not really a green advocate, an environmentalist, until you’ve learned to pass your book on to its next readers. Trashing or throwing a book away instead of bequeathing it to a new reader is a sin. Period.
Q: Thanks for your time. May I look around the shop?
A: Spend all the time you wish. You’ll never have enough time to see everything, but the longer you remain, the more you will want to experience. This syndrome is called booklust
(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed
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