Iconoclast Books -- New, Used, Rare, and Very Independent

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Amid the majestic mountains of the Wood River Valley of Idaho, Gary Hunt has become the area's foremost purveyor of reading materials: He owns three stores and an active online business and each year sets up a temporary bookstore at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. Iconoclast Books, which was founded in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1993, as a marginal used and out-of-print business, now offers a combination of new, used, out-of-print, and antiquarian titles at a main store on Main Street in Ketchum, a two-year-old store in Hailey, and a one-year-old store in the Sun Valley Mall, next to the ski area.

Photo by Lisa Jane Persky
Iconoclast Books in the historic Griffith Building in Ketchum, Idaho.

Photo by Michael Eastman

Hunt runs the stores with his wife, Sarah Hedrick, and employs about 20 people, with extra staff added during the huge Sun Valley Writers' Conference, for which Iconoclast has supplied all of the books for the past 11 years. The conference, which is held over four days in August, draws many A-list novelists, poets, historians, journalists, and political thinkers to its big tent. This year's speakers ran the gamut of notables: Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer, Anne Lamott, Richard Brookhiser, Gay Talese, W.S. Merwin, Frank McCourt, and Cokie Roberts, to name a few. Hunt describes the event as "like Oscar night, surrounded by all our literary heroes."

Ketchum was home to one of the country's foremost literary heroes -- Ernest Hemingway. He arrived in 1939 and finished For Whom the Bell Tolls while staying at the Sun Valley Lodge. After about two decades, he purchased a house in Ketchum, where he ended his life in 1961. He and his wife are buried in Ketchum, which makes the community a natural spot for a Hemingway Festival. Iconoclast initiated the festival last year, and it will run again in late September.

Iconoclast Sun Valley

Hunt told BTW that the stores still feature many rare and out-of-print books, and those emphasizing Idaho history, works on and about Hemingway, and Sun Valley history and memorabilia. But customers with more contemporary literary tastes, including bestsellers, find much at the Iconoclast stores. Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, now housed in a 3,800-square-foot historic brick building, has three floors of books, and an extensive inventory appealing to many different tastes.

Iconoclast South

The 2,500-square-foot Iconoclast South, located in the bedroom community of Hailey, nine miles south of Ketchum, features more family fare and a larger children's section. The newest store, Iconoclast Sun Valley, was an existing bookstore in the resort village. About a year ago, Hunt and Hedrick purchased the 1,200-square-foot store, which is frequented by many tourists and conventioneers.

Hunt noted the difficulties in attracting major authors to the area, which is 150 miles from Boise, Idaho. Fortunately, he said, through Iconoclast's affiliation with other arts and community organizations, many major authors come for area events. That may explain why Mark Kurlansky, author of many popular books, including Penguin titles Cod, Salt, and most relevant, A Basque History of the World, will be a special guest at this year's Trailing of the Sheep Festival, from October 13 - 16.

According to Hunt, in the 1900s, Ketchum was second only to Sydney, Australia, for sheep-raising, and today's festival celebrates the traditional migration of shepherds and flocks from high-mountain grazing ground to low desert for winter. As sheep herding in the American West was the primary source of employment for immigrant Basques in the late 19th century, Basque culture is celebrated along with the trailing of the sheep. On its website, Iconoclast features books by Kurlansky, and others about Basque history, along with assorted sheep books.

Hunt eschews the traditional definitions of an iconoclast -- such as one who attacks cherished beliefs, or destroys images -- as overly negative. He prefers to use the term to describe one who challenges the status quo in favor of the new or as yet unknown idea, and embodies a spirit of intellectual curiosity. Artists, writers, poets, architects, even booksellers, are the true iconoclasts, he maintains.

The galleys, ARCs, and lists that are sent through the Book Sense mailings, appeal to the staff's intellectual curiosity and provide titles they may not have considered before. "More than any other lists," Hunt said, "the Book Sense Picks are most useful."

About Book Sense gift cards, he said, "We love them, and they're very beneficial to business. Dealing with the web-based Givex system has been great." --Nomi Schwartz