As if Rhode Island couldn’t get any more radder, it’s home to one of the best indie bookstores in the country, Ada Books. Humble owner and proprietor, Brent Legault, was kind enough to answer some questions over electronic mail.
What’s Ada’s origin story?
It started with the publication of Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle in 1969 (which is, coincidentally, the year I was born). The book was not a hit with critics but it hit home with me after I first read it twenty-five or so years later. If I were the type to maintain a mountain of my favorite novels (I am not), Ada would likely sit at its summit. It seemed logical and fair-minded then to name the shop after it. Originally, I planned on calling it Ada or Ardor: A Family Bookshop but my wife wisely put a stop to that. (We’ve saved a bundle on signage.)
What’s the curatorial process when choosing books to stock?
The process, if you can whatever it is I do a process, is simple: I choose the books and magazines that I like or think I’ll like and hope that others agree with me. They don’t, usually, in spite of my excellent taste.
What’s the arts/literature scene in Rhode Island like and what role does Ada play within it?
The scene here is mostly serious, or artists taking themselves seriously. Humor comes in smirks rather than guffaws. My role in it is a minor one. I host a reading series, which is run by Kate Schapira (an excellent poet), where I often drink a little too much beer. I also eat more than my share of cashews or almonds and clap, politely but genuinely, when others clap.
What helps a book sell? What’s been the most successful book at Ada?
Though I’ve been selling books for more years than Justin Bieber has been alive, I still have no idea how to make a sale. I know that “weird” works, as does “obscure.” But those things sell themselves. I’m no salesman. I never “upsell” anything. I just put it on a shelf or a table and see what happens. (I will give out opinions when prompted.) The most successful book at Ada has been. . . oh, I don’t know. I don’t keep track. But I’ve probably sold more copies of Mat Brinkman’s Teratoid Heights than anything else. These days, it is shamefully out of print.
How does a brick-and-mortar store not only survive, but maintain relevance in the age of Amazon?
I don’t think my brick-and-mortar(and-paint-and-plaster) store is at all relevant “in the age of Amazon” except perhaps in a negative way. That is, I think that my customers reject or at least look down upon the Kindles and the iPads and ordering books online in general. Or perhaps they do those things but also feel a kinship with books and booksellers and want them to stick around for a little while longer.
Please describe the cat that lives in your store. If you don’t have a bookstore cat, please explain why.
My shop cat is a pure white American short hair with a pink nose and mismatched eyes. Her name is Paper and she is imaginary. I’m only at the shop 7 or 8 hours a day and I feel it would be neglectful to leave her alone for so long. Therefore, Ada Books is catless, although my wife and I have three cats at home named Ratsy, BeeBong and Pancake. They are adorable.