Jim Hanas on Burke’s Book Store of Memphis

While I focus on things other than blogging this month, I’m running a series on independent bookstores.

Below Jim Hanas recalls working at Memphis, Tennessee’s landmark Burke’s Book Store, which was founded in 1875 and doubles as a publisher of local-interest titles. The shop nearly went out of business last year but has since relocated to a different part of town. Notwithstanding the first editions and visits from Faulkner paramours, Hanas’ most memorable day on the job involved Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley.

I worked at Burke’s Book Store in Memphis more than ten years ago, and it was the best job I ever had.

A lot of interesting firsts and signed editions passed through the store, like the day Faulkner paramour Joan Williams came in to have all her association copies from “Bill” wrapped in acetate dust jackets. The copy machine was right there, and I often wish I’d taken a shot of the inscriptions.

But Williams was not the most famous person to come to the store. Shelby Foote, Richard Ford, and George Saunders all made appearances, and John Grisham (who only does signings at independents) drew crowds around the block every time he put out a book. And, although I’ve lived in New York for seven years, my best celebrity sighting (by far) still happened at Burke’s. That was the day Michael Jackson came into the store.

It was a slow Sunday afternoon, and he was preceded by an advance man — a body builder in a plain dark suit — who came in and asked when we closed. He left, then in came Michael, along with Lisa Marie Presley — they were married at the time, and in town for some Elvis tribute — and a small entourage. They shopped for children’s books for more than an hour, then left the advance man behind to pay the tab. The first credit card he presented — which said “Michael Jackson” right on it — was declined, but a backup made it through fine.

That night on the news, I saw Michael and Lisa Marie passing the books out to sick kids at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Charitable, but still kind of creepy in retrospect.


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