Great Small Businesses: Atomic Books!

This week I interviewed a great book store called Atomic Books !

  1. Why is the book store called Atomic Books?

“When the store name was decided on in 1992, the word “Atomic” was an ironic reference to the mid-century, Atomic/Nuclear-era of America where conformity was stressed and fear of anti-communism dominated, and the possibility of the world ending in a nuclear holocaust was an ever-present reality – a shadow we grew up under. The word “Atomic” was meant to signal the sort of underground/counter-cultural nature of the publications we carried that were pushing back against that sort of mainstream conformity and other forms of cultural colonialism and corporate sanitization of the arts. It also applied to a sort of tongue-in-cheek appreciation of a mid-century aesthetic.

Decades later, outside of that context, we get the occasional customer who asks, “What’s an ‘Atomic Book?'”

Usually, I respond, “It’s like an e-book, but more powerful.”

2. What kind of items  do you sell in the store? Is there a popular section in the store? If so, what is it?

“We carry fiction – Beats and crime being what we’re really best at.
We carry non-fiction – and our categories vary from Psychokillers to Conspiracies to Outer Limits to Strange Science to Occult.
We carry artbooks – lowbrow, tattoo and street art are what we’re mostly into.

We carry a wide array of comics and graphic novels, with our specialty being literary, underground and alternative. But we have some superhero and manga too.

But mostly we’re known for carrying zines and mini-comics (self-published periodicals).

Our aesthetic has always been counter-cultural, alternative, underground, transgressive, and experimental.
Our tag line is “Literary finds for mutated minds” if that helps give a better idea of what one might expect.”

3. Can you talk a little bit about the Atomic Book Club?

“Our book club has been going on for nearly 20 years, give or take. Basically it started with my partner Rachel Whang and I deciding that we’d like to get together with people and either get them to read some of our favorite books or get us all to read books we’ve been meaning to read.

Each year, Rachel and I decide on a topic. This usually involves lists we make throughout the year. We narrow those lists down to a couple of topics or themes, (we’ve done Cult Classics, Post-Apocalypse, Series Firsts, From Page to Screen, Short Stories, Music, etc.) and we then begin to populate it with  books. Typically, whichever list looks the most fun is the one we go with. This year, our theme of Cults has been especially popular.
When we select books, we typically choose a variety of fiction, non-fiction and comics.

We’re currently meeting the last Tuesday of the month in Eightbar, the bar in the back of our store. During COVID, we were meeting online, but we’re back to in person meetings now.”

4. If you have to pick a fall reading book list for the upcoming season: What four books would you pick and why?

“Here is a list of 10 in no particular order:

Liberation Day – George Saunders
I love short stories, and Saunders is a master.

The Passenger/Stella Maris – Cormac McCarthy
When a writer of McCarthy’s stature drops two new novels in as many months, well, it demands attention.

Weasels In The Attic – Hiroko Oyamada
I loved Hiroko’s previous book, The Hole. So I’m interested in this fictional look at gender roles and marriage in Japan.

Toad – Katherine Dunn

Dunn’s novel Geek Love is, really, the core DNA of much of our fiction section. So a previously unpublished novel from her feels like a gift.

Well of Souls: Uncovering the Banjo’s Hidden History by Kristina R. Gaddy

I love Kristina’s writing and Well of Souls looks to provide a much needed comprehensive history of this often misunderstood musical instrument.

No Justice, No Peace: From the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter by Devin Allen
Few photographers can capture the state of America as stunningly as Devin Allen.

No One Left To Come Looking For You – Sam Lipsyte
A suspense novel set in 1990s New York DIY scene – well, that’s just in my wheelhouse.

Below Ambition – Simon Hanselmann
A new book of weird stoner humor by Hanselmann.

Follow Me Down: A Reckless Book by Ed Brubaker / Sean Phillips

It’s stunning how consistently great Brubaker and Phillips’ crime comics are.

Joy Of Quitting by Keiler Roberts

Domestic comedy in the form of autobiographical comics. And Roberts’ art is terrific.

For older book recommendations – on our site we have an Atomic Canon section where we list our key, core books:

5. What is your best memory or event you have of the book store?

“We’ve been fortunate to have a number of great memories/events with the shop. But at the top of my list of favorites are always the John Waters signings. John’s fans are so great, they’re so excited, they’re so fun, and John is so great and he really enjoys meeting and interacting with them. There is so much wonderful positivity that it almost feels like it can’t be contained. Rarely do so many people, standing in line for so long, have such a good time. But they do at John Waters signings.”

6. Do you have any exciting news or events that you would like to share?

“This year, the store is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Somehow, we’ve become Baltimore’s oldest independent bookstore. So we have a number of limited edition totes and t-shirts we’ve been releasing that we’ve designed with artist friends of the store from over those 30 years. And the response to those has been overwhelming.

We have a string of events we’re hosting coming up I’m super-excited for:

October 2 – Old Line Plate: Stories and Recipes from Maryland Kara Mae Harris – Kara has this amazing Maryland food history website. She’s self-published a book based on her site. So she’s doing a talk and, hopefully, bringing some pie.

October 4 – Well Of Souls by Kristina Gaddy – we’re hosting this event at the Pratt Library. I’m very excited to see Kristina talk about her book.

October 8 – Michael DeForge & Sadie Dupuis  – comic book artist DeForge and musician and poet Dupuis return to the Atomic Books to talk comics and read poetry in our bar, Eightbar.”

If you would more information about Atomic Books. The following contact information is below:

Instagram: @atomicbooks

Until next time!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s