Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Worst Conversational Bookshop

Eighth Day: Best place to buy books, worst place to focus on conversation

There was a reception tonight at Eighth Day Books in Wichita to kick off the conference. I have never been to a place where I’ve had a more difficult time having a conversation. Why? Because it’s the best bookstore in the world, and if you are a bibliophile, it is impossible to keep your mind on the conversation you’re having because you can’t help scanning the shelves, where you will inevitably see a book you’re dying to look at. It’s the damnedest thing. I had some wonderful conversations tonight, to be sure, but it took all my powers of concentration to overcome my “ooh, squirrel” reflexes every time I glimpsed a different shelf.

If you are passing anywhere near Wichita, Kansas, you have got to stop by this bookstore. Bring money. You’ll find titles here you aren’t going to get anywhere else. If I lived in Wichita, I would come into the store all the time just to sit and be among all those books. Once, when she was only six, my daughter Nora was standing with me in a Barnes & Noble, and she said, “I don’t know why, but I feel so safe here, around all these books.” One day I’m going to bring her to Eighth Day Books. She’ll think she’s at the center of the world. Seriously, you might think it impossible that a bookstore this small could possibly be this good, but the deeper you go, the more true it is.

If you can’t get to Wichita, you can order from the store online. But seriously, try to come. Warren Farha has built a shrine to the book here, and it feels like holy ground. And you know what? When I walked in tonight, he had a cold six-pack of Boulevard 80-Acre Wheat waiting for me in his fridge. “Your brand,” he said. You got that right.

Imagine that: a (heavily Christian) bookstore where they remember your favorite beer. I told somebody tonight that this is the second-happiest place on earth. “What’s the happiest?” Huîtrerie Régis, naturellement. But then, ain’t nobody eating oysters in Kansas.