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Spotlight on Bookstores: *Explore Booksellers* in Aspen, Colorado

Maria Semple’s debut novel, This One is Mine, was published about a year ago; if you missed the hardcover, you can grab the paperback, just out from Back Bay Books (a imprint of Hachette Book Group).  Visit Maria Semple online to find out about upcoming author events, or invite her to your book group via Skype chat.  In this personal essay, Maria introduces our first “Spotlight on Bookstores” in Colorado – Expore Booksellers in Aspen.

Growing up in LA, I went to grade school with the Anderson girls. (Celebrities to us, not because their mother, Katherine, was the daughter of Hollywood’s first celebrity couple, Irving Thalberg & Norma Sheerer, but because their father, Richard Anderson, played Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man.) Katherine and Richard divorced; Katherine and her daughters moved to Aspen. She reported back that it was a jewel of a place and that she had opened a bookstore. My parents brought us to Aspen for the summer. We stayed for the school year. We never left.

Katherine Thalberg opened Explore Booksellers in the early seventies in a rambling old Victorian on Hopkins Street and eventually moved it to a larger and even more rambling old Victorian on Main Street. Vivaldi, black-and-white triangular bookmarks, butterscotch candy by the register, tiny room-after-room so precariously crammed with books you had to remove your parka and backpack to avoiding setting off an avalanche…. And, of course, Katherine, the handsome and serious owner behind the counter, peeking up from her glasses.

I spent lots of time at Explore. One of my favorite things was going to the fiction section, to the S’s, to imagine where my future novel would be shelved. Between JD Salinger and Mary Shelly? Between Sir Walter Scott and Upton Sinclair? Between James Salter and Robert Louis Stevenson?

In Aspen you know what kind of skiers people are. Katherine Thalberg had the best posture of any skier I had ever seen, and perfect form to match. That was Katherine: elegant, contained, formidable. She grew increasingly vocal about animal rights and added a vegetarian café to the upstairs of the book store. She married the mayor, Bill Stirling, who shared her passion for reading and animals. He almost got recalled when he and Katherine tried to ban the selling of fur in Aspen.

Long after I moved away, I got word that Katherine had passed away after a fight against cancer. 

I love coming back to Aspen, and frequently do. Within twenty-four hours, I’m back at Explore. I dump my coat and backpack at the front door. Vivaldi plays. The black-and-white bookmarks are stacked on the front counter. Mayor Bill is introducing an author in the back room. Lynda and Dan, the new managers, both friends of mine, call out “Welcome back!” and are eager to catch up. But first, I go to the fiction room, the S’s. There it is, THIS ONE IS MINE, by Maria Semple. Between Will Self and Vikram Seth.  

Katherine would have been proud.

14 comments to Spotlight on Bookstores: *Explore Booksellers* in Aspen, Colorado

  • What a beautiful post! And I can see this bookstore exactly in my mind. Now that was one woman who was living her dream. Is there not a blogger on earth that wouldn’t want a bookstore located in a rambling Victorian mansion?

  • What a touching post! I’m glad Mayor Bill’s still involved in the store.

  • Kay

    I love this post. Such a nice story and I would love to visit that bookstore. We’ve been to Colorado many times but have never made it to Aspen. If we ever get there, I’ll be sure to go by.

  • Beautiful. Aspen is beautiful–how ever in the world did I miss Explore? When we head back to Breckenridge this summer, we’ll have to get over to Aspen and check it out. Luckily we won’t have parkas!

  • It must feel so nice to be greeted and remembered at your favorite bookstore. It sounds like a nice place!

  • Sandy – doesn’t it sound wonderful?!

    BermudaOnion – I believe Katherine would be proud, and pleased.

    Kay – you’re several steps ahead of me; I’ve never been to Colorado :( Now, another reason to go!

    Bluestocking – the cafe sounds wonderful, too.

    Lisa – we’re all looking forward to non-parka weather!

    zibilee – Hee-hee! I get that “here she comes again!” look when I walk in our local store (esp. if I have the kids in tow!)

  • Nicole

    What a nice post! I love the front cover of the book!

  • Thanks for posting this story, Dawn. I’m touched by all the comments.

  • That must have been cool to go back to the bookstore she imagined her books being sold in!

  • I’d love to own a bookstore in a rambling Victorian home. Thanks for keeping the dream alive :)

  • Nicole – what’s not to like about a chocolate cupcake?!

    Maria – I read an interview on another blog today … didn’t realize that you were a screenwriter before turning to your novel. Mad About You is a favorite of mine!

    Savvy – I love how Maria’s story comes full circle.

    Stacy – I’d take either, the bookstore or the rambling Victorian. Both together would be Nirvana!

  • Such a wonderful post. How amazing for Maria to have her dream come true and see her book on the shelf!

  • Thanks to Maria for such a wonderful history of Explore Booksellers. Aspen is all the more enriched by having locals like Maria living and writing here. I absolutely loved Maria’s book when I read the advanced copy! I hand sell it all the time. A store like ours is increasingly rare and with e-books and Amazon we fight to survive. I encourage everyone who loves an independent bookstore to support one. Without them literary gems like Maria’s are seldom found.

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