The Joy of Wichita
That’s an image of Johnny Cash and St. John Maximovitch, from a wall in The Ladder, the Christian speakeasy next door to Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas. I called my wife from the bookstore to check to see if a certain Russian novel was something our son had read. “Oh my God,” she said, all Texanish. “You are shopping at the world’s best bookstore at 9:45 pm.”
“And not only that,” said I, “but I’m drinking beer.”
Honestly, people, does it get an better than that. I’m serious. After Warren Farha (pictured with his wife Chris below) closed the bookstore, we retired next door to The Ladder for libations and conversation.
It’s hard to convey what an amazing bookstore this is. Imagine that Tolkien and Lewis were curating the place, with the Orthodox Philip Sherrard twisting their arms — hard. James K.A. Smith and I stood next to each other by a shelf tonight just marveling that such a place even exists in this fallen world. This whole underground Christian scene in Wichita, composed of alt-Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals, seems to be centered around this bookstore and The Ladder next door. And I was thinking man, what I wouldn’t give for a place like this where I live. I’m seriously thinking about roadtripping to Wichita with the family this summer just to hang with these great people and be in the orbit of Eighth Day Books.
I’m just the kind of person who gets that excited about a bookstore, is all. But damn, what Warren Farha has created here is a great American institution. I’m serious about that. This is what book lovers hope that all bookstores will be like: eclectic, idiosyncratic, and radiant with the conviction that the people who own this thing have a vision that was not decided by algorithms from corporate headquarters.
Here is Your Working Boy with Jennifer, the bartender at The Ladder tonight:
This is a great place. I’m not kidding. And you know, I had a long conversation today at the conference with Chad Raith of the Paradosis Center, in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. We talked in a Macintyrean vein about how the places in the backwater of empire might just be where our cultural renewal comes from.
They have something really special going on in Wichita. Is all I’m saying. I was fortunate to be here this weekend, and am grateful to the Eighth Day Institute for inviting me.
UPDATE: Commenter Oscar T.:
It’s difficult to exaggerate the genius and love these two, Warren and Chris, have imparted through their work and sacrifices at Eighth Day Books, St. George Orthodox Cathedral, and Wichita at large. Perhaps the following account, among many untold ones, can convey the unique character of their decades-long project.
There’s tons of ink spilled and synods and conferences had about uplifting the family but the overall rhythm of typical American life marches on assuming otherwise. My young wife had worked for Warren at EDB since 2007 up until late last year when she was 8 months pregnant with our fourth child. Being a young family, we needed that extra income. Warren, with his characteristic grace, hesitated none at all at allowing my wife to bring and care for each of our three other children (ages 4, 3, 1.5) while they were in infancy. So while the toddlers were being cared for by grandparents during the day, my intrepid wife would bring whoever was the baby at the time to work, fielding customer transactions, fixing network issues, shipping orders, and shelving books all with baby in tow. And so for the last 5 years, EDB had baby paraphernalia scattered about behind their back counter, and at times inconsolable cries–from the baby– would interrupt the generally calm and quiet bookstore atmosphere. We know that it was taxing at times for the staff and customers during those outbursts of infant dependency and with the need to navigate gingerly at times around a sleeping child. And yet through it all, Warren, the staff, and many of the customers warmly welcomed each baby. Each day, they bestowed a Christian patience and acceptance around the little one. Truth be told, babies are bad for the bustle of retail business, but Warren thrives on the relationships he daily cultivates, not on the end dollar. So along with the beer, books, and “hearthiness,” this wonderful enterprise we call Eighth Day Books truly is an oasis of civility and as my family has witnessed, Christian love.
And behold, Bo Bonner holding forth inside the bookstore last night on the killing of pigs: