Short excerpts from our favorite articles:
NEW JERSEY BOOKSTORE THE RACONTEUR CLOSES TODAY
January 31, 2012
The Huffington Post
The New York Times profiled the upcoming closing a couple months ago, capturing some of the spirit and joy that was inherent in spending time at the store, but it's difficult to explain to those who haven't experienced it firsthand.
More closings are sadly on the horizon, as The New York Times recently wrote another arts obituary, this time mourning the "musical mainstays" of Greenwich Village's Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies and Park Slope's Southpaw, a record store from the 1960s and performance space, respectively.
Unlike those independent institutions, The Raconteur is going out somewhat on its own merits, as Dawson is moving forward and developing his playwriting and directing career. I will share interviews with himself and others on the store and what lies ahead in the near future.
In the meantime, I'd like to take this opportunity to not just grieve the loss of an incredible institution, but also celebrate the wonderful art and experiences it has given me and countless others. Though it may "always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," in this case, I think everyone knew just how special The Raconteur was during its tenuous existence, which makes parting such sweet sorrow.
Mourning a Cultural Center Disguised as a Bookstore
November 28, 2011
The New York Times
Even admirers concede it was always a stretch to imagine a combination literary bookstore, avant garde cultural center and family-friendly guerrilla street theater emporium here on Main Street. So Alex Dawson’s seven-year run at the Raconteur, which will come to an end on Jan. 31, was about seven years longer than anyone should have expected.
Still, more than just another bookstore is closing in Mr. Dawson’s plans to shut down his eerily orderly kingdom of antiquated arcana with the scrap-metal Don Quixote statue out front. The Raconteur bucked the awful economy, the impossible economics of the book business and the big-box magnets sucking life from suburban downtowns. Even if he went out on his own terms, that seems small consolation to adherents.
One customer wrote him: “I couldn’t help thinking of the words by Poe, after I read your e-mail two nights ago, ‘Darkness there, and nothing more.’ I really felt as if someone had just died. You have given this community a soul and a heart.”
Independent Bookstores in Jersey still Attract Customers
By Peter Genovese
March 18, 2011
At first glance, the Raconteur resembles a museum of oddities more than a bookstore.
The decor includes a stuffed pheasant, steamer trunk, Ouija board, a Christmas light made of shotgun shells, giant mounted bugs, a G.I. Joe lunch box, Underwood typewriter, a scarred but in-tune piano salvaged from a shut-down saloon, a knight’s helmet and three beer taps from the Plum Street Pub in New Brunswick, where Dawson once worked.
Oh yes, and 25,000 books, neatly arranged, although some are intentionally stacked on the floor because people “like sorting through the piles — that’s where they think the treasure is,’’ according to Dawson.
The former bartender, bouncer and Central Park carriage driver wrote and designed 15 plays for the New York stage, but could never get used to the “fleeting, ephemeral’’ nature of theater.
So he opened the Raconteur six years ago, envisioning it not just as bookstore, but a “free cultural center’’ and community gathering place.
Dawson holds about 80 events a year in the bookstore — author appearances, readings, musical performances (everything from chamber music to hard-core punk), and film screenings. And let’s not forget the annual arm-wrestling competition, called the Santiago Armsport Tourney in honor of the arm-wrestling fisherman in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.’’
July 13, 2009
By Robert Kaplow
NEW JERSEY MONTHLY
"I have this urge, a compulsion really, to turn the basic idea of a bookstore on its ear,” says Alex Dawson, co-owner and manager of the Raconteur, a used bookshop in Metuchen. The Raconteur not only sells new and used books and organizes screenings of film classics, it also runs a motorcycle club for book-loving bikers. Every summer and fall, the club sets out on a series of motorcycle treks to “sites of literary or cinematic interest.” Previous excursions explored William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, and Blairstown, where Friday the 13th was shot.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
A nice café with a rather good bookstore attached
Jeremy Mercer sounds a call to arms to all real book lovers to rally and keep the independent bookseller alive
By Jeremy Mercer
December 8, 2007
It is incumbent upon us to go to such lengths to help those foolhardy dreamers who still insist on opening bookshops. Just look around: on the Greek island of Santorini where a band of young idealists created Atlantis Books or in the New Jersey town of Metuchen where a bearded maverick opened The Raconteur or in London where Lloyd's of Kew has been lovingly revived complete with tree sculpture bookshelves. If these folks are willing to gamble their meager resources on the absurd adventure of bookselling, the least we, the bookstore faithful, can do is match their bet. It might cost a little more in time and money, but consider it a form of tithe. How else will we preserve our literary sanctuaries?
THE HOME NEWS TRIBUNE
Look for gobs of literary mayhem this weekend at The Raconteur Festival in Metuchen. We're talking live music from The Roadside Graves and Spain's Sandra Rubio, authors such as Charles Bock (Beautiful Children) and Shelley Jackson, who's building a story with tattooed volunteers--don't ask just show up--and The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, a traveling combo of vaudeville, burlesque and sideshow. Join the circus (sorry cirkus) at your own risk. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Metuchen does Oscars with book readings
By Elias Holtzman
February 28, 2008
THE HOME NEWS TRIBUNE
Metuchen had its own Oscar program last Saturday night, a day before the actual Oscars ceremony in Hollywood. The master of ceremonies in Metuchen was not Jon Stewart, the comedian, but Alex Dawson, mid-thirtyish bookseller, playwright, set designer, bartender, motorcycle rider, actor, big tall guy, and a "sine qua non" such as I never "sine qua non" before.
Get your motor running, head out to the…bookstore?
By Peter Applebome
June 8, 2006
THE NEW YORK TIMES
If someone was going to start a literary motorcycle club in New Jersey, it figured to be Alex Dawson. So, no surprise, there he was, leader of the pack on his Kawasaki Vulcan Classic, when the club roared out on its first road trip earlier this month to the house in Burlington, where James Fenimore Cooper was born.
O.K., it was just five members, but you have to start somewhere. "It's a very difficult demographic to mine, finding people who are interested in literature and motorcycles," he said.
But then Mr. Dawson, it turns out, is already an expert on mining difficult demographics. Witness his main gig, his attempt to start an independent literary bookstore, writers' salon and literary center of gravity in Metuchen, N.J. And, quite amazingly, a year and a half into the game, his bookstore, the Raconteur, has become slightly famous in literary circles in Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as Edison and New Brunswick, even if the jury is still out on whether anyone can make much of a living this way in the age of Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble.
By Laurie Granieri
THE HOME NEWS TRIBUNE
When it comes to the Raconteur bookstore in Metuchen, size matters – and bigger isn’t necessarily better. Patrons can’t grab grande half-caf caramel lattes at the modest Main Street bookstore, tucked between Charming Nails and the Metuchen Savings Bank, but they can rent hard-to-find indie and foreign films, read Hunter Thompson’s obituary, flip through a massive Shakespeare tome perched on a lectern or bump into any number of quirky decorations, including masks from around the globe and a life size Indian statue made of masking tape.
Psychedelic author finds audience in Metuchen
By Rebecca Lerner
February 7, 2007
THE HOME NEWS TRIBUNE
Finding a figure like Pinchbeck in suburban New Jersey might seem something of a surprise, even in Metuchen, a place that considers itself Manhattan hip and goes by “the brainy borough.” But the bookstore has a reputation for transcending its locale.
Short-story book features local authors
Contributors include both professionals and beginners
By Jay Bodas
January 2, 2008
Besides being an attorney, incoming borough councilman Chris Morrison is also a writer of fiction in his free time. "I had always enjoyed writing, but I had never really shared that with anyone else," Morrison said. "Before this, I hadn't been published in anything besides college publications."
Morrison's work appears in the recently published Raconteur Reader, a collection of 30 short stories published by Alex Dawson, owner of Main Street's three-year-old bookstore, The Raconteur. The book's contributors include a range of writers, from those whose work is being published for the first time to those who are award-winning professional writers, including Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Festinger, who co-wrote the screenplay for "In the Bedroom."
Fellow Metuchen resident and author Robert Kaplow is also a contributor to the Reader. Kaplow has seven published novels to his credit, and one of his books, "Me and Orson Welles," is now being made into a film by director Richard Linklater and stars teen actor Zac Efron. Kaplow also refers to himself as an "authentic fan" of the Raconteur bookstore. "I am there all the time … I was there today," he said. "The Raconteur is what a bookstore ought to be”
Tricks, treats at local haunted houses
By Jay Bodas
October 31, 2007
EDISON - Some Halloweens, it can be just plain torture scaring up something fun to do.
But not this year. Over the weekend Edison and Woodbridge townships each played host to a sprawling haunted house, where thousands were given a good fright. But those unfortunate souls who missed out will still have another chance to experience true terror at Metuchen's Raconteur Bookstore on Main Street, beginning tonight at 7:30 p.m.
"We are doing what we call 'The Haunted Bookshop' for the first time ever, with the monsters inspired by classic horror stories," said storeowner Alex Dawson. "Participants will be given a tour through the store by a freshly murdered Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Lestrade, who was a character from the Sherlock Holmes series."
The windows of the storefront will be blacked out, and the shop's interior will be illuminated by colored lights, Dawson said. "Each aisle will be curtained off, and we will have characters from the 'Phantom of the Opera' and the 'Island of Dr. Moreau,' among others, as well as Edgar Allan Poe reciting his famous poem 'The Raven.' "