So you're opening a bookstore.
You need books.
"What books do you think we should have?"
Hans Weyandt, the longtime bookseller who's ushering Milkweed Books into being, posted that question on Facebook when he started to put the stock list together.
He got more than 60 responses in the first day: fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Old, new, classic, obscure.
"People want to have a role in that sort of thing — they're interested," he said.
On Tuesday night, Milkweed Books will throw open its doors in Open Book, Minneapolis' literary center, with fully stocked shelves. The space is small — not one of those labyrinthine bookstores where you need to send up a flare to find the exit — but the selection took months to curate.
"We looked at fall fiction lists, indie lists, lists and lists — there's no end to that," Weyandt said.
The hunt took them down into Open Book's basement, where Milkweed Editions keeps its stock. The bookstore is a new venture for the nonprofit press, which also offices in the building. The final selection mixes books from Milkweed's decades-long publishing program with books from presses both big and small around the country. It's a path more indie presses are taking, lately: opening their own shops.
For Weyandt, hauling boxes of books and readjusting dust jackets was a happy return. The former co-owner of Micawber's Books in St. Paul has been out of the bookselling game for almost three years.
"I was okay with that," he said. "I was only going to come back if the very right opportunity presented itself — and I got lucky. It did." The first books on Weyandt's list for the store were personal favorites, both old and new:
• "Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward
• "Grief Is the Thing with Feathers" by Max Porter
• "You Can't Win" by Jack Black
That last one, which offers a glimpse into the hobo underworld, is a bestseller — or it was, in 1926. It was reportedly a favorite book of William Burroughs, and it's "an old favorite of mine," Weyandt said.
Those kinds of deep cuts are what Weyandt wants to offer. The shop's selection is like a mix tape: Almost every book comes personally endorsed by Weyandt, Milkweed staff or their friends and family.
Early in the planning stages, Weyandt joked that the store would have three sections: fiction, cookbooks and "death and destruction." Instead, it will have no section markers — no signposts separating sci-fi from literature or travel writing from memoir — just one wall of fiction, one wall of nonfiction and a space for poetry.
The system will keep things fluid. "You won't see the sad little theology section with six books in it, tipped over," Weyandt said.
The goal is to provide the kind of singular recommendations you can't get from an online book behemoth. "I really, strongly dislike Amazon, and that's as nice as I can be about it," Weyandt said.
"Amazon can recommend you a book because you read a book by that same author, or you read a book about that same topic. It can't find that singular moment that you loved about a book and find other books that contain that same energy or same feeling," said Celia Mattison, one of Milkweed's booksellers who has helped build the inventory.
The history section
Milkweed Books is actually opening in a space once inhabited by another bookstore — Ruminator Books' Minneapolis outpost — which did not survive the economic waves and the shift to online shopping that toppled shops across the country.
Weyandt helped open that store too, 16 years ago. Since its closure, the space has been rented as offices or sat empty.
"It's a very odd return to a place that is both similar, but has changed," Weyandt said. The neighborhood has undergone a revitalization, with the new U.S. Bank Stadium, the Guthrie Theater and million-dollar warehouse condos in the surrounding blocks. No more Liquor Depot across the street, Weyandt said.
The increased foot traffic and the building's other tenants, including the Loft Literary Center and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, now draw hundreds of people into Open Book a day.
"I think the American economy is tilting back, in that it's not just all about big-box stores," he said. Bookstores have defied the odds. "Four years ago, everyone was convinced that e-books were going to decimate the paper book, but that has totally flat-lined. We all know that real books are going to continue to be printed and bought."
Milkweed Editions will kick things off Sept. 20 with an open house, including a visit from author Deni Bechard. Bechard's book "Into the Sun," about expatriates in Kabul bound together by disaster, was published by Milkweed this month.
Weyandt and his staff are excited to see the books they've been fussing over, picking out and propping up, find new homes.
They need to make space for new ones.