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Book It To Burke’s: A Peek Into the Rare and Collectibles

Burke’s Book Store is packed with stories both on and off the shelves, and rightfully so considering the Memphis staple has been around well over a century. Cheryl Mesler gives us a closer look at what makes Burke’s, well, Burke’s, and the bookworm that I am could not have been more excited.

Cheryl and her husband, Corey, bought Burke’s back in 2000 when former owner Harriete Beeson decided to sell.

“We’ve both worked here 30-ish years, but we’ve owned the store for 19, almost 20.” Mesler said. “We don’t know how to do anything else so it was like, we gotta buy the store so we can keep our jobs.”

And, I think it’s fair to say Memphis is very glad they did.

This article takes place among the stacks at Burke’s in a section dubbed “Rare and Collectibles”. This section has changed throughout the years, and we can thank the internet for that. Most collectors snatch up what they’re looking for with the click of a mouse, rather than rustle through the stacks in their local bookstore. In the past, this section was made up of first edition, signed, or leather-bound books. Today, the rare and collectibles section is an eclectic mix ranging from graphic novels to literary criticisms. One item of interest is a John Grisham piece.

“We have a copy of The Firm, which is sort of the book that put him on the map.” Mesler said. “The one we have is signed by Grisham, Tom Cruise, Sydney Pollack, and all of these signatures in it, which I think is a really, really interesting piece and a nice little piece of Memphis history.”

The rare and collectibles section typically consists of used books, as does the majority of Burke’s. Previously owned works bring their own charm with them which transfers over to the shop itself. Cheryl explains that’s what really makes her job interesting. There’s no way to call what’s going to waltz through the door, more so now than usual.

“Everything we have in the store comes from somebody walking in the door saying, ‘I have books to sell.’” Mesler said. “Right now we are overloaded, everybody is “Marie Kondo-ing” their collections.”

Everyone is thinking it, so I’m just gonna say it, Burke’s is overbooked.

Now that that’s out of my system, the rest of us book hoarders out here can count our lucky stars thanks to the newest Netflix craze. A word from the well-read, never underestimate just how much joy a stack of novels can spark. If there’s something specific on anyone’s “To Read” list, now is a great time to stop into Burke’s and peek around. There’s no shortage of merchandise with reserves in the back waiting to go home with their new owners.

The most bizarre publication currently residing in the rare and collectibles section is a single standing copy from a “Classics of Surgery” collection. Bound by Easton Press, this guide discusses medical procedures from the 1800s, including, but not limited to, kidney stone operations and things of that nature.

Over the years, many books have passed through Burke’s walls, whether they found their home in the rare and collectibles, or one of the other many sections the shop has to offer. There’s a little bit of everything here ranging from philosophy, architecture, southern history, graphic novels, literary classics, to Occult writings.

With that being said, Burke’s Book Store is a melting pot for publications, reflecting the diversity of the city it calls home, Memphis. 

Burke’s Books is located at 936 S. Cooper.  Visit their website for more info.

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