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Bestler | Harper Lee book release brings back memories of owning book store, Mickey Spillane

Jane MacAdam, far left, and Ginny Bordeaux emboss copies of "Go Set a Watchman" in Ol' Curiosities & Book Shoppe on the book's release date in the hometown of "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee, in Monroeville, Ala., Tuesday, July 14, 2015.
Jane MacAdam, far left, and Ginny Bordeaux emboss copies of "Go Set a Watchman" in Ol' Curiosities & Book Shoppe on the book's release date in the hometown of "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee, in Monroeville, Ala., Tuesday, July 14, 2015. AP

I read the other day that the owner of Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe in Monroeville, Ala., had ordered so many copies of Harper Lee's “Go Set a Watchman” that he had to rent a shop across the street to hold them all.

Monroeville, of course, is the hometown of Harper Lee and when the book was published Tuesday more than 4,000 orders had been placed at Ol' Curiosities.

Spencer Madrie, the store's owner, had hoped to sell a few hundred, but never realized the anticipation with which Lee fans were awaiting the sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“We've sold to a bunch of different countries around the world and, of course, a ton of them in the United States,” he told the Associated Press.

“That's exciting when you think that so many people care so much about a book's release.”

Every book ordered from Ol' Curiosities will come with an embossed emblem and a certificate showing that it was purchased in Lee's hometown. Not a bad reason to bypass Barnes & Noble.

As the one-time owner of The Whale's Tale bookstore, I'm happy for Madrie. It's always gratifying to see an independent show up a conglomerate -- although B&N will sell its fair share of “Watchman.”

I actually know a little bit about how Madrie feels.

I didn't have Harper Lee living down the street, but I did have another icon, a guy by the name of Mickey Spillane. You may have heard of him.

(I believe it was Truman Capote who once said Spillane was not a writer. He was a typist. Mickey, you can bet, laughed all the way to the bank.)

When his latest Mike Hammer mystery, “The Killing Man,” was published in 1989 we were still a struggling shop counting the pennies at day's end. After Hurricane Hugo hit on Sept. 21 that year, there were days without even pennies to count.

When “The Killing Man” came out shortly afterward, we contacted Mickey about a Saturday book signing. He already had one scheduled at a used-book store, but agreed to stop by afterward.

We were such rookies that we had no more than a few cartons of books waiting for him -- hardly enough for the line that was forming around the inside of The Whale's Tale and even outside.

Luckily, we were able to deal with the owner of the used-book store, who had over-ordered, and the crisis was averted.

When Mickey arrived, his fans could not get enough -- and he did not let them down.

He spoke to everyone, took pictures with anyone who wanted one (including the owners), and wrote a personal message in each book.

We fell in love with the guy, realizing he was the real deal. We could understand why he preferred quiet, unassuming, down-to-earth Murrells Inlet to, oh, New York City.

We didn't sell 4,000 books but we did sell about twice as many books that day as any other day in the seven years we had a store.

So thanks, Mickey, you old teddy bear. For us, you were a regular Harper Lee.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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