The tallest, widest, brightest and most unique “bookshelf’’ in Macon can be found at the bottom of two hills between a gas station, a tire place and a “coming soon’’ seafood restaurant.
It is painted across the facade of Gottwals Books on Riverside Drive, where the spines of a Sherlock Holmes book and “Alice in Wonderland” stand guard near the front door.
The mural is 63 feet wide, and the deepest book jacket is 11 feet from top to bottom. It is literally literary, slam dunked with classics from “Harry Potter” to “Gone With the Wind,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’’
The Bible — the world’s all-time best-seller — has a place on the shelf, along with “The Joy of Cooking.’’ Both are right at home in the Bible-thumping, spoon-licking South.
I first met bookstore owner Shane Gottwals 10 years ago this fall. After majoring in English at Mercer University, he was working part-time at Ken’s Stereo Junction.
He was a nice young man, and he sold me a television. I’m happy to report the TV is still going strong, and so is Shane.
The following year, he and his wife, Abbey, opened Gottwals Books in Warner Robins and expanded to Macon, Byron and Perry. Gottwals now has “Walls of Books” franchises in four other Georgia cities — Tifton, Ellijay, Watkinsville and Peachtree City. It has become one of the largest used bookstore chains in the U.S., with stores in New Orleans, Kansas, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
Two years ago, Shane moved the Macon location from Northside Drive, where he was paying rent to a landlord, and bought a 5,000 square foot former clothing store, The Crate, on Riverside Drive.
The low-slung building got a makeover on the inside and is now stocked with about 60,000 books. But the exterior was plain vanilla, begging to break free from its drab stucco look.
“We fully renovated the inside and got it looking right,’’ Shane said. “But we never felt good about the curb appeal. There weren’t enough flowers and bushes to do the trick.’’
In other words, you can judge a bookstore by its cover.
Shane had seen photographs of libraries with bright book murals splashed on outside walls. It was a transformational idea, and he wasn’t sure it had been done anywhere else in the area.
Two months ago, he contracted with local artist Val Elliott to bring to life A.A. (Milne), C.S. (Lewis), E.B. (White), J.M. (Barrie) and J.K. (Rowling).
Selecting the 30 books was a democratic process. He polled his staff and offered a couple of personal favorites — Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Rick Bragg’s “All Over But the Shoutin’. ’’
Some folks might even wonder if he has written his memoirs.
“I had a copy of ‘Shane,’ the old Western, put up there so my family could drive by and say, there’s Shane,’’ he said, laughing.
Two local authors made the cut, and I’m honored to be one of them. Rick Hutto’s “A Peculiar Tribe of People’’ earned a spot, and my first book, “True Gris,” can be found above the right window between “The Color Purple” and “The Cat in the Hat.’’
I guess I can say “True Gris” is officially in large print.
It is especially meaningful because the anniversary of my debut as an author is approaching. My first book signing was on Dec. 9, 1997, at Ingleside Books. It was one of the greatest days of my life. I never would have dreamed I would write eight more books over the next 17 years.
If Shane was looking for “curb appeal,’’ he got his wish. You can see image of the showcase bookcase along busy Riverside Drive. If you rubber-neck, you can even catch a glimpse of it from Interstate 75.
“I’ve been surprised at how many people stop and have their photo taken in front of one of their favorite books,’’ he said.
While I was visiting the store on Wednesday, a group was posing for a Christmas card against a backdrop of books.
I am planning to go back and take a “bookshelfie selfie.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism, creative writing and storytelling at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.