T-Minus 3 Days - Peddling an Eccentric but Coherent Community of Books

Feast of St Vladimir of Kiev, Equal-to-the-Apostles

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Part 1 of a 3-part introduction to the 1st Annual Inkling Festival

IN SEPTEMBER of 1988, Warren Farha opened Eighth Day Books with what he describes as “a few lovingly chosen books.” One year later, he sent out the first of many mail-order catalogs. It is in these catalogs, which are deeply treasured by bibliophiles, that Warren articulates his vision for the catalog, and hence also for the bookstore:

We hope there is a coherence within this eccentric community of books, an organizing principle of selection: if a book—be it literary, scientific, historical, or theological—sheds light on ultimate questions in an excellent way, then it’s a worthy candidate for inclusion in this catalog. Reality doesn’t divide itself into “religious” or “literary” or “secular” spheres, so we don’t either; we’re convinced that all truths are related, and every truth, if we pay attention rightly, directs our gaze toward God. One of our customers found us “eclectic but orthodox.” We like that. We also resonate with Saint Justin Martyr in his Second Apology (paraphrased a bit): that which is true, is ours.

Amen. 

Having seen the rise and fall of several super-size bookstores in Wichita (Bookstar, Borders, and one of two Barnes & Nobles), having withstood the advent of the Amazon behemoth, having weathered the recent e-book hype, and having outlived too many other dying independent bookstores, almost twenty-seven years after opening shop, Warren’s independent bookstore still stands. Miraculously.


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But Eighth Day Books doesn’t just stand. It now stocks over forty thousand lovingly chosen books. Like Roger Mifflin’s “caravan of culture” (if you’re not familiar with that reference, you need to visit Eighth Day Books to purchase a copy of The Traveling Parnassus), Warren’s blue Eighth Day van frequently hauls books—up to three thousand at a time!—across the U.S.A, from Houston to Chicago and from California to Massachusetts. In fact, as I write this, the van sits loaded with books waiting to depart in the morning for the annual Circe conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

Warren’s vision, as articulated in the catalog, has become a reality. Eighth Day Books peddles an eccentric but coherent community of books to readers and scholars all over the world. And in the process, he has created a community of like-minded folk who see the unity of all truths, a fellowship who is rightly paying attention to truth, and thus a society of simple souls whose gaze is directed toward God.

How did Warren come up with such a compelling vision? In his autobiographical account of building an independent bookstore (published in Image No. 46 as “That Which Is True Is Ours: How to Build an Independent Bookstore”), he draws our attention to a primary source. Describing the maturation of his faith—from Jesus-freak faith to the Orthodox faith into which he was born and baptized—he says the process began at the age of sixteen or seventeen when he began reading C. S. Lewis:

His extraordinary writing—its beauty, clarity, and penetrating descriptive accuracy, especially regarding emotion and the spiritual life—not only confirmed the fundamental truths taught by the church (which is why I originally sought him), but connected these truths to a much wider spectrum of experience: mythology, philosophy, literature, even cultural criticism.

But Lewis was not the sole source of inspiration.

Before returning to his Orthodox roots, Warren developed deep friendships with like-minded “Jesus-freak readers.” And books were at the center of those friendships. They read all sorts of books: biblical studies, apologetics, theology, church history, and spirituality. And this remained the case after his return to Orthodoxy. In Warren’s words:

My friendships—mostly friendships with non-Orthodox Christians—continued to revolve around books. Books formed the center of our common life. We read books together; we discussed ideas; we joked about and argued and pondered things we read. Sometimes, just for fun, we would muse over what the perfect bookstore would have on its shelves.

These words could just as well have come from any one of the literary figures who bring us together this weekend for our first annual Inklings Festival. To them we’ll turn tomorrow.


Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.

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