Here at BookClub, one of our major tenets is a deep appreciation for independent bookstores. That’s why we love taking the time to highlight some of the places that really make us feel safe and warm—like a good book!
Dog-Eared Books is no exception. Opened in March 2021, Dog-Eared Books heralds the return of independent bookselling in Ames, Iowa—a university town in the heart of the state. Located on historic Main Street in a building that dates back to the late-1800s, Dog-Eared Books is a place committed to nurturing a love of reading in all members of their community by offering a curated, inclusive selection of books.
As part of our partnership with Belletrist (hey, have you signed up for Belletrist + BookClub yet?), we were able to chat with Amanda Lepper and Ellyn Grimm, co-owners of Dog-Eared Books. Both graduates of Ames High School, Amanda and Ellyn dreamed up the idea that became Dog-Eared Books upon returning to the community after college. Together with Shop Dog Lovie and a team of fabulous booksellers, they pair readers of all ages with the next great read. Check out their interview with Belletrist below!
Belletrist + BookClub: Thanks for joining us! Tell us a little about yourselves.
Amanda: I’m Amanda, and like a rom-com or coming-of-middle-age book, I am living my greatest dream come true running an independent bookstore in the same town in which I was born and raised, having achieved that dream just shy of my 40th birthday and with the fourth of four daughters about to head to kindergarten. I can remember the moment in second grade when I became a reader thanks to the Boxcar Children series and later, my beloved Anne of Green Gables. I’ve rarely been without a book since. I love literary fiction, smart mysteries, and have an almost embarrassing collection of children's books. I married my high school sweetheart, love nothing more than spending time with my big, complicated family, and have a side hobby training dogs in obedience.
Ellyn: My name is Ellyn, and I'm a former middle school and high school language arts teacher and a mom of three. Other than reading, talking about, and selling books, I love hanging out with my family and am an avid New York Times crossword puzzler.
Belletrist + BookClub: How long have you been in business?
Amanda: We opened on March 8th, 2021. When the youngest of my four children was getting ready to start 4-year-preschool, I had the opportunity to consider what I would do with the next stage of my life. I could either finally catch up on laundry and start working out more often or I could chase the one dream I knew I would always regret not pursuing. Together with Ellyn, a woman I respect and enjoy beyond measure, I put the plan in motion in March of 2020. When the pandemic hit, we used the downtime to really fine-tune each of our decisions, and the delay became a blessing in disguise.
Belletrist + BookClub: What’s your favorite part about the neighborhood in which you are located?
Amanda: We’re located in a building that's just five years younger than the history of Ames. It was built in 1869 and housed the growing town's premier department store, The Tilden Store for more than 100 years. I'm fascinated by Main Street's history, grateful for the collaborative spirit of the district's small business owners, and blown away by the community's support of our locally owned bookstore.
Ellyn: It's a thriving local shopping district. My favorite thing is the camaraderie among other business owners. We're all in this thing together!
Belletrist + BookClub: What is your favorite book you’ve read in the past year?
Amanda: A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet. Good Lord, every sentence of this book packs a wallop. How can a book be so hilarious and terrifying at the same time? The protagonist's assessment of the adults in this book is razor-sharp. This is one I won't ever forget, and I'll be eager to read whatever Millet puts out next.
Ellyn: Gold Diggers by Saniena Sathian.
Belletrist + BookClub: What book are you most looking forward to reading in the upcoming year?
Amanda: State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton. I'm a huge fan of the Inspector Gamache series and Louise Penny's heartfelt writing —I can't wait to see what she's produced with the one and only Hillary.
Belletrist + BookClub: What are three books you always recommend?
Amanda: When's My Birthday written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Julie Fogliano is a literal poet, and no children's book author better captures the spirit and inner workings of a child's mind. Christian Robinson's illustrations are gorgeous pieces of collage that feel both vintage and altogether new at the same time. The Most Fun We've Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. She's an Iowa author, and this book gets the complexities of a family with four daughters and a lifetime of thwarted best intentions. Celine by Peter Heller. A bookseller at Prints in Portland, Maine recommended this to me and I fell in love with both the character Celine and Heller's beautiful and intimate writing. I emailed the author after finishing the story, begging for him to give his readers MORE CELINE—he told me the character was almost completely a biographical portrayal of his mother, who had died and whom he missed.
Ellyn: The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. This is just a mystery with it all. SO MANY twists! The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Beautiful story and beautiful writing. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. A wonderfully written novel celebrating intersectional feminism.
Belletrist + BookClub: Where have you found inspiration in operating your store? Have there been other businesses that inspired you? Business owners?
Amanda: I love Annie B. Jones of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia. As a reader, she was my go-to for book recommendations. She wears her heart on her sleeve and shares so much book love with the world. I also take great inspiration from Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis— they know what it is to make a bookstore a magical experience for kids, from their mini purple door to the bookstore pets, this is a one-of-a-kind destination.
Ellyn: We've taken so much inspiration from other independent bookstores! To stay inspired, we always come back to our store's mission: “Dog-Eared Books is a place committed to growing and nurturing a love of reading in all members of our community by offering a curated and inclusive selection of books. We believe reading and storytelling make us better humans, connecting us, and allowing us to better care for one another.”
Belletrist + BookClub: If you could open up a satellite store anywhere in the world where would it be?
Amanda: Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada — the forest, the lakes, the streams—there's no place that's ever made me feel more alive.
Ellyn: New Zealand!
Huge thanks to Amanda and Ellyn for chatting with us, and for having such a wonderful space for avid readers in Ames, Iowa. If you’re interested in learning more about Dog-Eared Books, be sure to check out their website, and buy books through Bookshop.org to support them.
Have you ever been to Dog-Eared Books? What bookstore should we check out next? Tell us on Instagram or Twitter at @bookclubdotcom.