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Bookseller Q&A: Underground Books


Josh and Megan, owners of Underground Books.

Josh and Megan, owners of Underground Books.

Underground Books is a charming antiquarian, rare, and used bookshop just off of historic Adamson Square in downtown Carrollton, Georgia that aims to be a bibliophile’s destination and a browser’s paradise. With a fascinating and unusual collection of beautiful, uncommon, and thought provoking books, Underground Books is sure to leave the serious book lover dizzy with serendipitous finds. The bookshop is literally underground, and patrons must descend a short staircase to enter the shop. A true community bookstore, the down payment for purchasing the building was raised completely from crowdfunding. Owners Josh Niesse and Megan Bell met just after Josh opened the shop in March of 2011, were married in May of 2014, and now operate their book business together, with Josh manning the shop and Megan cataloging the rare and antiquarian books for online sale. Both Megan and Josh have attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, Josh on a scholarship sponsored by AbeBooks in 2011. Underground Books is committed to creative reuse and upcycling, with journals made from damaged vintage books, magnets and pins made from their illustrations, and the shop’s signature piece, the book arch, made completely from books in poor condition.

We caught up with Megan for a quick Q&A about the world of book selling.

AbeBooks: How did you become a bookseller?

Megan: I was a freshman English major at our local university, when a friend told me a new bookstore had opened on our town square. I walked into Underground Books two weeks after Josh opened the doors and was immediately taken with the shelves and shelves of books, the cozy, quirky aesthetic, and the nerdy proprietor. Courting a bookstore owner ended up looking an awful lot like working in a bookstore—a definite perk! After graduating, I joined the shop full-time as the co-owner and resident cataloger. I love spending my days handling, researching, and playing with rare and antiquarian books!

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

Megan: Book people! Kurt Vonnegut once said, “By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.” The book-lover to book-lover relationship is an extension of this and is truly miraculous to us. It’s a joy to talk books all day, and it’s an honor to send a favourite book home with a new friend. I’m also a scholar at heart, and I love learning something new every day, whether it’s discovering the poets of Black Mountain College or learning that Frances E. Willard had a shepherd collie named Prohibition.

Vintage books on display at Underground Books.

Vintage books on display at Underground Books.

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

Megan: One of my personal favourites is The Greek Romances of Heliodorus, Longus, and Achilles Tatius. It’s an absolutely stunningly bound collection of these ancient, totally wild romances. Lovers in peril, bandits, nymphs, and the great god Pan—what more do you need? For Josh, it’s this Tamerlane Edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works, thoroughly illustrated throughout by Frederick Simpson Coburn. We love the previous owner’s bookplates in this series—it looks like he had a photographer come to his library and take a snapshot of him looking very studious!

A bookplate from Underground Books' Tamerlane Edition of Edgar Allan Poe's collected works.

A bookplate from Underground Books’ Tamerlane Edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works.

AbeBooks: What’s the one book you covet most? Why?

Megan: Last year, Bernard Quaritch held Frances Currer’s first edition copy of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds, the book Jane Eyre is reading at the beginning of the novel by Charlotte Bronte. Frances Currer was not only a distinguished book collector in a field dominated by men (Seymour de Rici called her “England’s earliest female bibliophile” in his history of collectors), but she patronized the school the Bronte sisters attended, and, though it’s not provable, it seems likely Charlotte chose her pen name, Currer Bell, in honor of Frances. All of the significance, literary history, women’s history, and mystery of this book just captivates me!

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Megan: We have a collection of things we’ve found, and I’m partial to putting even grocery lists in it, but there’s definitely a front runner for weirdness. We recently found a signed pitch card of Tiny Lavonda, “the smallest woman in the world,” a sideshow performer with the Clyde Beatty circus in the ’40s. It shows her with her Chihuahua and has a poem written by her on the verso. It was so unexpected, and I love it so much; I don’t think I can part with it!

Underground Books

A peek inside Underground Books.

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

Megan: We both agree it was attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, Josh in 2011 (on a scholarship from AbeBooks!) and Megan in 2014 (on an ABAA scholarship). It’s a challenging week, full of serious instruction from titans of book selling and librarianship, with vigorous learning, frantic note-taking, midnight talks with peers, and all the camaraderie of this trade. It’s a mountaintop experience.

AbeBooks: And of course, what’s your favourite book?

Megan: Josh’s background is in philosophy, but he’s a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut and other smart funny authors like Tom Robbins. Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and James Howard Kunstler’s Geography of Nowhere had big impacts on him when he was young, and he still mentions them frequently. I love Margaret Atwood, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf…but it’s the Harry Potter series. I am devoted. I burst into tears when I found out we were going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I wrote an essay comparing CABS to Hogwarts for the Fine Books & Collections blog. I reread them every few years and find myself as immersed and enamored as I was at eight.

Flowers for a bibliophile, at Underground Books.

Flowers for a bibliophile, at Underground Books.

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6 Responses to “Bookseller Q&A: Underground Books”

  1. avatar
    kagimu_07@yahoo.com April 1, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Hi Jessica Doyle I want to help me buy a copy of isbn 9781843119104 UK medical directory.

  2. avatar
    kagimu_07@yahoo.com April 1, 2016 at 9:27 am

    Hi did u receive my massage?

  3. avatar
    Richard Davies April 7, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Hello
    We do have copies of that book listed for sale on our marketplace. Click on this link to see them.
    http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781843119104&sts=t
    Regards
    Richard Davies
    AbeBooks

  4. avatar

    hi there
    been looking for grandfather’s book forever
    GOLF WITHOUT TEARS by Lewis Williams -published privately we guess- the only thing i have is a very very blurry photocopy – Lewis was the golf professional at Angelsy (Wales UK)golf course when i was a boy some 65 years ago – i would be very grateful if you could redirect this query to wherever it needs to go! – thanks
    regards
    ed

  5. avatar

    Have you tried bookbinders.com?

  6. avatar

    Have you tried bookfinders.com
    Disregard last misspelling!
    Debby