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The Raven Bookstore
I come from a family equally devoted to roadtripping and to reading. When I was growing up, our summer migrations were as much trips from Colorado to vacationland as from bookstore to bookstore. We’d journey from our home base, the Boulder Bookstore, across the desert to Moby Dickens in Taos and then the Bodhi Tree in L.A., to a great uncle’s cabin in Wisconsin and The Bookworm in Boulder Junction, to an aunt near Seattle’s Elliott Bay or another aunt near South Hadley’s Odyssey Bookshop.
For all our wanderlusting, the most hallowed of our literary stopovers has long been The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, an oasis of books at the halfway point between my childhood home and my grandparents’ house outside St. Louis (and Pudd’nhead Booksellers in Webster Grove). Sometime when I was in high school, a roadtripping rule was enacted allowing each member of our expedition to pick one side trip per cross-country venture. Although the roadside attractions between Boulder and St. Louis are formidable and diverse—the world’s largest prairie dog! the Greyhound Hall of Fame! a huge fossil of a fish eating another fish!—The Raven remains the one stop we have to make, and that we’ve been making loyally now for 25 years.
The Raven is a mere two rooms big, but stocked with precisely the books you’d most want to read, often presciently flagged with handwritten recommendations from store employees. The bookstore’s specialty lies in mystery books, including a large selection of imported British mysteries, but every section is curated with love and depth and attention to detail. Its poetry books, its volumes on nature and science, its excellent slice of humor writing and the work of Edward Gorey (present, too, in the Gorey posters on the walls) all testify to the sensibility of a staff with whom I think I’d very much like to split a sandwich. I only pass through The Raven two or three times a year at best, and yet so many of my favorite books have come from its shelves. The shop is bright and tidy and pleasantly full, the way I want to imagine the space of a whaling ship would be, with every shelf and corner thoughtfully appointed for maximum usefulness on the long trip to come. And there’s always at least one bookstore cat who comes over to say hello and charm you with a leg rub, even if you’re as allergic as I am.
When a chain bookstore not to be named opened down the street from The Raven in 1997, I was afraid that our particular bookstore-roadtripping way of life was coming to an end. I needn’t have worried. The Raven has outlasted not just that particular store, but the entire franchise—a testament to the scrappiness of indie bookshops, but even more to the magic of this particular one. The Raven remains one of the best bookstores I’ve encountered in my zigs and zags across America, a destination in and unto itself.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky is an editorial assistant at Tin House. She holds an MFA from The New School and was a finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers.