In 2003, Greg Delzer bought a 50-year-old used bookstore up for sale in Spokane, Washington and renamed it Defunct Books. Since then, the bookshop city hopped a couple more times until 2015, when it landed in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Rare, used, and out-of-print books clutter the wooden shelves of Defunct Books, and the stories within their pages are as intriguing as the owner himself.
What do you enjoy most about running a used and rare bookstore?
My goal is always to get the right books to the right people. I may achieve that goal when I recommend book to someone that turns out to be the exact book they needed. Sometimes the right book reaches the right person when someone randomly encounters a book they’ve been searching for forever. And sometimes I may hunt down a book either online or in person that the customer couldn’t find themselves.
Once, a customer began to cry when they reunited with a book they owned as a child but couldn’t remember the title or author. I may have choked back a tear myself.
Why did you decide to open a used book store?
I was an English major in college, so it was a prerequisite to want to own a bookstore. I had planned on starting a bookstore from scratch, but I ended up purchasing an existing store and then moving it four times across three states.
If you could take 5 books with you on a deserted island, which ones would you take?
I would bring a mix of ones I have and haven’t read. That way, I can read ones I know I love and ones that can surprise me. So, ones I’ve read multiple times and love: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig, Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I have started but not finished Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en (translated by Anthony Yu), which is a 4 volume epic; passing time on a deserted island would be the perfect opportunity to finish it. I still need a fifth one, so I am open to suggestions.
What do you love most about Nashville’s literature scene?
Really, the energy of the people in it. I have friends who work the Southern Festival of Books, fellow bookstore owners, and even the founder of the Nashville Free Poetry Library. I feel energized by their zeal.
What’s the first book you remember reading and loving as a kid?
I read every dinosaur book I could get my hands on. However, I particularly remember my fourth grade teacher gifting me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I read that until it fell apart.
What do you love most about the Five Points neighborhood?
Nashville has an abundance of cool neighborhoods, but East Nashville is where it’s at. The people here are friendly and strange, and the area has gotten so famous that it literally draws people from all over the world. I enjoy supporting small businesses and the art scene, and there is no place better in the city to do that.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about Tennessee’s history from the books you sell?
Easy–I have become a huge nerd about the Tennessee Centennial Exposition (so much so that I now volunteer at the Parthenon). My favorite fact is that the Exposition, held in Nashville in 1897 (the year after the Centennial) was technically held in Centennial City. The city was a short-term carve out from Nashville, which allowed the Exposition to have their own police force, make their own alcohol consumption laws, etc.
If you could live in any fictional place, where would you want to live?
I think I have carved out my own fictional space, as the bookstore really is modeled after the BBC series Black Books. I also have incorporated Bernard Black’s customer service philosophy.
How do you come across the rare and defunct books you sell?
I am always on the hunt for interesting, unusual, and rare books to sell at Defunct Books. Now that I’ve been established, more often these days those books just walk through the door. I still shop estates, go and seek out collections, etc. I’ve had books walk through the door that have ended up at Christie’s. And I have storage akin to the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse–there’s no telling what treasures are hiding in boxes!
What is your favorite or go-to book genre?
Travel memoirs. I am a sucker for a book that shows both an inner and outer journey (see Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
What is it like to run a used book store, especially when the mainstream option is audiobooks?
Physical books are magical objects. Book lovers view them as friends or as part of the family. An audiobook is just a way to impart information. It doesn’t really matter if it’s on cassette or CD or mp3 or streaming. Whereas you can hold a book. You can smell a book. You can admire it on your shelf without even reading it.
The technology has been around for more than a 1000 years and yet has basically not been improved upon. So, that’s what I care about—that and the idea of helping people find the book that they most need, whether they know what it is or not.
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