Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Nancy Olson - Library Baby

Posted September 17, 2008

As many of you know I have a book coming out next month called Blue Ridge Reunion. The 124 page hardback features my father’s majestic mountain watercolors and my essays about growing up in Western North Carolina. I’ve also recorded a companion musical CD by the same title. The whole project has been pretty consuming this year but as my late father would say “it’s been a labor of love.” One of the neatest people I’ve gotten to know along the way is Nancy Olson. Nancy owns and operates Quail Ridge Books & Music on Wade Avenue in Raleigh.

I’ve long been fascinated by the success of Nancy’s store which has won several national awards. How does an independent book store thrive in today’s economic climate? “We survive because we’re different,” Nancy told me in a recent interview. A major ingredient in the Quail Ridge success formula is the author event. The store’s calendar is chocked full of book signings and readings by local, regional and nationally acclaimed authors. Large crowds turn out for these events and hundreds of books are signed and sold.

You don’t see the best sellers out front in Nancy’s store. And you’ll never find a trashy romance novel here. It’s just not part of the culture. Nancy calls herself a “library baby.” While growing up in Virginia her family spent a good part of every Saturday browsing though the book shelves of their local library. Reading became a window to the world and she’s still looking out of it every day. Nancy reads seven or eight books each month. Her total for 2007 was 75.

Nancy’s most exciting event was launching Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain at Quail Ridge. The two had been friends long before the book became a huge literary hit. Nancy’s store sold 6,000 copies of the book at Quail Ridge including 1,200 copies during the first reading. Another favorite signing involved former President Jimmy Carter. Nancy remembers Mr. Carter as “extraordinarily kind and thoughtful.”

Another key component to the Quail Ridge success story is the helpful, friendly and loyal staff including Sarah Goddin and Rene Martin. Sarah joined Quail Ridge after running her own book store for ten years in Cary. Rene organizes the author events and handles publicity. With such a solid staff Nancy can devote her energies to the big picture. When asked about her Raleigh Hall of Fame induction and Tar Heel of the Week status Nancy quickly points to the professionalism and competence of her staff and the loyalty of her customers as reasons for her personal success.

A month or so ago I sent Nancy a draft of my book. I was thrilled when she told me she loved it and thought it would be a “big hit.” She even agreed to take me under her wing and help me develop a plan to publicize and distribute the book. Her encouragement and support have meant the world to me. I wish my father and mother could have known Nancy Olson. They would have loved her too. My parents ran an independent book and gift store in Morganton in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. They knew all about the struggles of being an independent merchant. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to unveil my book at Quail Ridge Books & Music. I hope to see all of you there Friday evening, October 17 at 7:30P.M. as we formally release Blue Ridge Reunion with a book reading, slideshow and musical performance. Join me as we celebrate the project itself but also the great gift of Nancy Olson.


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  • bleslie Sep 18, 2008

    This nice note from Meriwether Walker:

    I join you in singing the praises of Nancy and her wonderful bookstore. Thank goodness, I live nearby! I grew up surrounded with books and parents who read voraciously. We never went to bed without reading ourselves to sleep, and any hours not spent on working or eating were generally spent reading (or playing outdoors). I will be looking forward to seeing you on October 17 and will certainly add your book and cd to my inventory!!

  • jdlewis76 Sep 17, 2008

    Bill, that's my own father's birthday, so I'll most likely be cooking out with him in Tarboro, but I still want a signed copy! Will you be doing any other signings?

  • bleslie Sep 17, 2008

    It'll be a little different than the Clayton concert with more emphasis on the new album and book. Thanks mdoodle!

  • blytle Sep 17, 2008

    Bill, will this be like the Clayton concert??? Would love to hear a repeat, or a new program. Can't wait for the book and CD!

  • bleslie Sep 17, 2008

    I would love to meet you!

  • tennispro Sep 17, 2008

    Since my daughter lives around the corner on Churchill Road we will both try to come! Congtats on a great CD and book! Can't wait to purchase them. twyla Go Heels!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • tarheelmom2 Sep 17, 2008

    Bill - I will definitely be there! That just happens to be my birthday and it sounds like a great way to celebrate!

  • Riverracer8 Sep 17, 2008

    Hmmmm - is there a road trip in my future? I just might have to go to Raleigh for that. Congrats, Bill, on what I know will be a wonderful book and CD.

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Bill Leslie