She Reads: On the Road
Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, S.C.
STORY & PHOTOS BY
Purdy the cat lifts her head lazily as the bell rings above the door of Blue Bicycle Books in downtown Charleston. After inspecting the new customer for a short while, Purdy’s green eyes slide closed again as she stretches luxuriously in her favorite napping spot—the lowest shelf of the sunny display window facing King Street.
Purdy feels right at home with the 50,000 books on Blue Bicycle’s shelves, many of which, like her, are a bit worn with age but well-loved nonetheless.
Blue Bicycle specializes in used, rare and new Charleston material. A walk down the store’s long, shelf-lined hallway is like a trip back in time. You never know what you’ll discover next.
Books on art, travel, gardening and military history share space with literary classics, original Nancy Drews, and beautiful Charleston coffee table books. A hardware catalog from 1929 sits on the counter next to a stack of signed, first-edition copies of Pat Conroy’s latest best-seller.
Blue Bicycle owner Jonathan Sanchez is always on the hunt for “new old” material for the store. Customers regularly bring in books to trade or sell. Certain rare and unusual books are sold online including a hardback edition of “Gone With the Wind” signed by author Margaret Mitchell and a version of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” printed in Latin.
Though some of the books may be a bit old and quirky, the store itself has a young, hip vibe and Sanchez finds creative ways to engage the local community in literary events.
This spring, during Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival, a two-week performing arts showcase covering the entire city, Sanchez issued a short story challenge to five South Carolina writers.
Using the opening line “I ducked into the alley,” the writers each created a five-minute story. The stories were later read aloud to a large crowd of festival-goers who filled a charming, ivy-covered alleyway on King Street next to the bookstore.
Sanchez, who is himself a writer of young adult fiction, also created YallFest to showcase the country’s top young adult authors through panels, presentations and signings, all geared toward a younger audience.
Sara Peck, a longtime Blue Bicycle employee, was amazed to see the large crowds in attendance at last year’s inaugural YallFest.
“It was great to see how many fifth to ninth graders would rather spend the weekend with books than sitting in front of the television,” said Peck. “It also helped that we gave away a lot of free pie!”
Blue Bicycle regularly hosts book signings by popular and emerging writers from the South Carolina Lowcountry such as Pat Conroy, Dorothea Benton Frank, and Bret Lott.
The next time you visit Charleston, head to upper King Street where literary treasures await. Just look for the blue bicycle parked on the street. And be sure to say hello to Purdy.
Sara Peck and the Blue Bicycle staff recommend the following books by Charleston authors:
Beach House Memories
By Mary Alice Monroe
Peck says: “Monroe has been an active conservationist in South Carolina for a long time and her love for the Lowcountry’s unique ecology shines in her books. Monroe also wrote a wonderful children’s book about sea turtles, ‘Turtle Summer.’”
In 1974, America was changing, but Charleston remained eternally the same. Olivia “Lovie” Rutledge did what was expected by marrying the son of a historic Charleston family and turning over her fortune and fate to his control. Her summers, however, were her refuge, spent in her family’s old seaside cottage on Isle of Palms, working as a “Turtle Lady” tending the loggerhead sea turtles that lay their eggs in the warm night sand before slipping back into the sea. When visiting biologist Russell Bennett arrives on the island to research the loggerheads, a shared passion for the turtles changes to a love more passionate and profound than Lovie has ever known—but one that forces her to face the most agonizing decision of her life.
The Water is Wide
By Pat Conroy
Peck says: “This is Conroy’s unofficial first book, a nonfiction account of the years he spent right out of college teaching kids on an isolated South Carolina island. We all know nobody does family dysfunction like Conroy, but this is an uplifting book and its nice to see what else Conroy can do as a writer.”
The island is nearly deserted, haunting, beautiful. Across a slip of ocean lies South Carolina. But for the handful of families on Yamacraw Island, America is a world away. For years the people here lived proudly from the sea but now its waters are not safe. Waste from industry threatens their very existence—unless, somehow, they can learn a new life. But they will learn nothing without someone to teach them, and their school has no teacher. Here is Pat Conroy’s extraordinary drama based on his own experience—the true story of a man who gave a year of his life to an island and the new life its people gave him.
Nowhere Else on Earth
By Josephine Humphreys
Peck says: “Josephine Humphreys is one of the most elegant ladies I’ve ever met in my life and she is also a very good writer. “Nowhere Else on Earth” is set in the Civil War and she handles inter-class relationships in a very subtle way which takes skill. Many authors over-do this sort of thing in historical novels.”
In the summer of 1864, the citizens of North Carolina’s Robeson County have become pawns in the devastation created by the Civil War. The Indian community, loosely known as Scuffletown, must contend with the marauding Union Army but is also harassed by the desperate Home Guard, conscripting youths into the deadly forced labour of the Confederacy. Young Rhoda Strong’s two brothers have joined a rebellious gang led by handsome, charismatic Henry Berry Lowrie, the hope of Scuffletown. To her mother’s dismay, Rhoda soon follows.