Man shops in the bookshop

“Square foot for square foot, it’s the best in Atlanta,” commented one customer, perfectly capturing the essence of the small but mighty Carlos Museum bookshop, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018. 

Full to overflowing (the always popular sale and bargain books have a permanent home in front of the store), the bookshop is a browser’s delight. If a museum visitor enjoyed the galleries, he’s sure to find something to complement the experience in the bookshop. The selection is carefully curated by manager Mark Burell, who came to the museum with a background in anthropology/archaeology and bookshop management. 

Mark has been with the bookshop since the beginning, conceptualizing both the original space itself during the 1993 Carlos Museum expansion and the bookshop’s focus. “We sell books and gifts that relate to our permanent collection and special exhibitions. Our inventory changes all the time,” he notes. 

With the past exhibition Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, organized by the Brooklyn Museum, the children’s book Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert became a runaway bestseller. (Adult readers interested in the subject, take note: Mark recommends Salima Ikram’s Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt and Jaromir Malek’s The Cat in Ancient Egypt.) 

Though the bookshop does stock gifts like mugs and bookmarks, its focus is books and its mission educational. “We provide resources that help people better understand the objects in the museum and the history of the peoples who produced them,” Mark explains.

University students and faculty trust the bookshop to meet their need for scholarly yet readable works, with the tomes of visiting lecturers well represented on the bookshop’s shelves (indeed, a flurry of readers rushed to purchase Ikram’s book when she lectured at the museum in March 2018.)

Additionally, K-12 teachers and parents looking to introduce young readers to art, history, world cultures, and mythology are frequent shoppers. Children’s books on ancient Egypt are one of the bookshop’s specialties and always in high demand. So too are Rick Riordan books, with his Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series a current favorite with middle grades/young adult readers.

The bookshop also supports the Office of Educational Programs, stocking titles that appear on the yearly Wrapped Up in Reading summer reading challenge book list and recommending new titles of interest, which in turn generate programming ideas. 

Over the years Mark has seen the popularity of certain adult books rise and fall, but he cites Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams, Serendipities: Language and Lunacy by Umberto Eco, and The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby as consistent favorites. 

In terms of subject matter, Mark has observed a notable upswing in readers’ interest in esoteric, spiritual, and specialized historical nonfiction as well as books with a cosmic focus; the Persian poet Rumi and Zen have each earned their own sections. Reassuringly, whatever the topic, physical books are still very much appreciated, especially by students, who seem to prefer them to digital versions.


This story was originally published in the museum's fall 2018 newsletter.