In July 2010, independent bookseller Ann Tetreault first opened the doors to her Manayunk-based shop, The Spiral Bookcase. Since then, Tetreault’s new and used bookstore has served as one of the Philadelphia neighborhood’s central cultural and literary hubs, attracting new visitors and comforting regulars daily. The Spiral Bookcase has recently partnered with Dzanc Books to expand its Small Press Book Subscription, a monthly book subscription that entails receiving a book by a new voice or publisher each month along with a small gift, a zine featuring the selected publisher and author, and free shipping. Dzanc recently interviewed Tetreault to learn more about Spiral and its Small Press Book Subscription.
Located off Manayunk’s Main Street, The Spiral Bookcase has strengthened the neighborhood’s literary culture since the store opened in July 2010. What inspired you to open an independent bookstore in Manayunk, and how has Spiral’s mission developed over time?
When I moved to Manayunk in 2009, I was drawn to the old hilly streets and charming Main St. business district, full of independent shops and restaurants. However, there was one very important thing missing: a bookstore. My husband and I wanted to fill that void and create a neighborhood bookstore for our community. I grew up frequenting secondhand bookstores, and I always loved seeking out old titles, ones that were no longer stocked at new bookstores. However, my vision went beyond a general used bookstore, as I wanted to stock new titles and literary and magical gifts—journals, totes, mugs, candles, sage, crystals, tarot, and more. I believed it was important to bring people together for dynamic literary and community-oriented gatherings.
Today, we are known for our well-curated stock, community involvement, and excellent customer service. I continually seek out ways to engage our customers and bring exemplary literature to our brick and mortar location. With the addition of the Small Press Book Subscription, I hope to bring our excitement for literature and quirky aesthetics right to your door.
Spiral is known for having a unique, carefully curated collection. What do you consider when you select titles to add to the collection?
I adore finding books to stock—it is definitely one of the best things about owning your own bookstore. Our selection is driven by many factors: personal favorites, important and well-regarded authors, customer interest, and sales trends. My experience selecting books for the Library of Congress’s holdings certainly helped build my confidence selecting the right books for Spiral.
We are a general used and new bookstore, but we do specialize in contemporary fiction, classics, and weird books. Our catchall phrase “weird books” encompasses interesting and esoteric endeavors—from medical oddities to the occult, folklore, death studies, and beyond.
Many of the new books we carry are staff recommendations, books that we love and books we love to share with patrons. Personally, I have always enjoyed small indie press books, so I always have a special indie author or publisher on hand to recommend. Right now, I’m smitten with Weirde Sister by James Gendron (Octopus Books) and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press).
Spiral recently launched the Small Press Book Subscription program. How did the idea for the program originate, and what guides the small press title selection process?
Although I have always been drawn to and read small press books, I began reading more and more during 2016. The creativity and originality in content, format, and literary voice always captured my focus and interest. Dorothy, A Publishing Project has long been a favorite, ever since a local author dropped off some of their titles for me to review. I was checking out their upcoming releases and noticed that Dorothy was publishing a collection of Leonora Carrington’s short stories. I knew this collection would be huge seller in-shop, but I started thinking—well, how can I reach more people? That started the ball rolling on a mail subscription just for small press titles. This subscription service is my way to personally recommend indie titles, educate subscribers to the absolutely astounding literature small presses can provide, and bring a piece of Spiral into homes around the country.
I handpick each book in each monthly box. I do like to share a selection that is ever-changing, so the monthly box may contain fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Every month I research and read new releases from several different small presses, as I do like being able to share the newest publications with the subscribers. However, if I feel like an older release did not receive the attention it deserved, I will bring it into the mix. I affectionately call my subscribers “Fearless Readers,” as I do believe you need an open mind when approaching non-mainstream literature. I want people to connect to what they are reading, but I also want to challenge them, to discover a new voice they never would have picked up on their own.
The subscription also includes access to a dedicated, invite-only Facebook group that discusses each month’s book. What about the group has surprised you?
I love hearing that people are pleased with our selections. This is a complete labor of love, and I was unsure of how the SPBS would be received, so these words of encouragement are very appreciated. Also, I really love when participants post pictures of their boxes and posts their thoughts on each month’s selection. I would like to see further involvement and I hope to begin sharing special interviews with the authors and publishers on the page. This endeavor is just beginning—I look forward to growing our dedicated community of small press followers and sending out the most interesting and impactful literary boxes I can. There is always room for improvement and growth.
How do you view the Small Press Book Subscription in relation to Spiral’s other community-building efforts?
I think that the Small Press Book Subscription is a natural extension. We seek out ways to connect people through the common bonds of great literature and the desire to discover their next great read. We want to bring something a bit different and always outstanding to our patrons, whether it be our ever-changing stock, our lively events, or this Small Press Book Subscription service. The SPBS is more than just a mail-order literary box—it is an opportunity for literary discovery, a way to foster original and creative literature by supporting small press authors and publishers, and a beautiful way to connect with other Fearless Readers. The enclosed gifts are a nice addition, too.
For further details and order information, please visit thespiralbookcase.com and click on “Small Press Book Subscription” or email firstname.lastname@example.org