Conversations with indies: An interview with Ian from Ghost Palace Books in Thomas, WV

The holiday season’s approaching, and supply-chain concerns make it a good idea to shop early. In that spirit, we’re excited to introduce the blog’s readership to some of the region’s indie booksellers, highlighting the important work they do with authors, publishers, readers, and communities. Second in the series is Ian from Ghost Palace Books in Thomas, WV.

How did Ghost Palace come to be? What’s your role there?

Ghost Palace started out as four people, incidental friends, unhappy in their work, meeting behind the backs of their employers to plot an escape. They soon realized they all shared a deep, abiding love (or a mild habit, at least) of reading and, utterly ignorant of the matter, figured owning and operating a bookstore together would be just the answer to their troubles. How right and how wrong. Not long after making this decision, a global pandemic came along and slammed the door shut on the whole “economy” thing. Perfect! A sign. They all left their stupid jobs to convert half an old duplex into a retail space and, presto, a few months later Ghost Palace was open for business.

From the start we tried to organize ourselves, loosely, as a collective, and decided we would share all operational tasks equally, so my own role, really, is basically the same as everyone else’s. In practice this works out as a rotation. One week I’ll be responsible for placing and receiving book orders; another week I’ll be on janitor duty, scrubbing the toilet. I have to say, it’s nice to change things up—regularly.

When a lot of people think of independent bookstores, they picture something urban—a cozy place downtown or in a bustling neighborhood. What’s it like bookselling in a small town in a rural part of the country?

Quiet! But steady. The choice of location I can see being, from the outside or from a business perspective—questionable, maybe? But we live here, so here we are. The most common reaction we get from new visitors, whether from the area or elsewhere, is simple, delighted surprise that we even exist. Scowls from the rest, and we scowl right back.

Tell me about a book that’s succeeded at Ghost Palace and has, perhaps, flown under a lot of readers’ radars.

We sell more copies of Elizabeth Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia than any other book, by far. But maybe this isn’t so surprising; people are curious about the area! Or they’re outraged by how they’ve been represented for so long, and even as recently as—well, when did Hillbilly Elegy come out, again? And that HBO special? God. Gawwwd.

Another one we’ve sold quite a few copies of is The Plague, by Albert Camus. I’ll leave your readers to draw their own conclusions about that little factoid.

Most people who visit WVU Press’s blog are, I’m guessing, positively inclined toward independent bookstores. What’s something you’d tell them about your industry that they might not know?

A friend in the business told us something early on in the process that has stuck. He pointed out that books are the only retail items that come with a price already printed on the product, and that there’s no changing that. Now, that’s not literally true (go check out a bag of Santitas at your nearest grocery store or gas station), but it’s well taken nonetheless. It can be hard out here, a minnow amidst megalodons, and positively inclined doesn’t necessarily entail patronage. I don’t want to brow beat your readers, but I would would nudge them gently to take a stroll to their local bookstore and maybe pick up a copy of The Secret Lives of  Church Ladies, if they haven’t done so already.

Leave a Reply