Friday, July 06, 2007

One Lucky Man


By all accounts, Charles Elder was one of those lucky people who get to live a lifetime working at a job that is more pleasure for them than it is work. Mr. Elder, who passed away at age 100 on June 27, owned various bookstores in Nashville for over 60 years.


The bookstore, which traces its roots to a shop Mr. Elder opened on Fifth Avenue in the early 1930s, has become a Nashville landmark, mentioned with Ernest Tubb Record Shop and Tootsies Orchid Lounge as one of "Nashville's greatest hits" in the November issue of Vanity Fair magazine.

"There's a sizable remnant of people around Nashville who love books, and all of them know Elder's Bookstore," said John Egerton, a friend and author.
...
Mr. Elder's love of books was nurtured by his wife, Dorothea Calhoun, a minister's daughter who came from a cultured and educated family. They met at David Lipscomb, now Lipscomb University, and married in 1934.

During the Depression, Charles Elder opened bookstores in Chattanooga and Knoxville, as well as Nashville, but they didn't last long. He eventually took a job with the U.S. Postal Service.

"He was a grouch and irascible post office clerk," said Egerton, whose books include Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

Mr. Elder "made a bad post office clerk," Egerton said, "but he made a great bookstore owner."
...
Besides running the bookstore, Charles Elder was a publisher, reprinting 30 books on Tennessee and Southern history in the 1970s and '80s.

Mr. Elder continued to work after his wife died in 1996. He retired in 1999, at age 92. "He wouldn't have felt comfortable outside the world of books," Randy Elder said. The younger Elder now operates the bookstore with his wife, Anita.
What a lucky man. So few of us are able to find real pleasure in what provides our living. Mr. Elder was one of those fortunate few.

13 comments:

  1. I can see how The Secret History would make good airport reading.

    I like your profiles of older people involved with books-they're cute. :) However, do you really think Edna Foulds read 90% of the books she checked out from the library? I think I average around 70% of library books. At that point she's reading one book a day. Still very impressive!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's hard to say, Eva. I think that I average at least a 90% read-rate on the books I borrow from my library. But I'm pretty careful about only checking out books that I really want to read. I suppose it depends on how Edna selects the books to take home.

    But, heck, even one a day is impossible for me. I max out at three a week when I'm really in a groove so I can't even imagine one per day for 40 years.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I tried to enbiggen the picture so I could see the titles on the shelf behind Mr. Elder, but no luck. Bet you did, too! I'm glad the bookstore is still going.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I tried but the resolution is pretty poor on that picture. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. R.I.P. Mr Elder.

    This is my idea of a life well lived!

    ReplyDelete
  6. That's a wonderful story, and I agree with Nick--"a life well lived!" I've been enjoying your posts of these wonderful book people, and of all things books (and music)!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, your posts about book people are wonderful. I've been enjoying them too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I completely agree with you, Nick...we should all be so lucky. People like Mr. Elder give me hope that it's never too late to do what you want to do.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for that Robin and Melanie. I'm happy that you guys are enjoying some of these wonderful stories. It always cheers me up to read about people who have enjoyed a lifetime of books because I think, deep down inside, we'd all like to see our own lives reflect our love of books the way that these lives have.

    ReplyDelete
  10. His is one of the greatest bookstores for Southern Lit! I stumbled upon his shop while attending an Italian Festival in the 80s, and at the time, I was all over anything Tennessee. I was in love as I saw his collection of Walter Durhams, and his picture is true to the whole building, floor to ceiling books. :D

    ReplyDelete
  11. It sounds like a great bookstore, Maggie. I'm hoping to check it out next time I'm in Nashville.

    ReplyDelete
  12. That does sound like one lucky man, I love bookstores. And to live to be a 100! :)

    ReplyDelete