It is with great pleasure that I present an interview I conducted with quarterlane founder/curator Elizabeth Lane. Elizabeth previously worked in contemporary art as a researcher for both galleries and museums alongside her own curatorial and writing projects. Her passion for books led her into a career as an independent bookstore buyer. She founded quarterlane to bridge the gap between independent bookstores and the internet–bringing the trust and discernment one finds within a bookstore to the ease of the online marketplace.
We are busier than ever and the leisure time required to “find a good book” no longer exists for many people. Quarterlane provides a quarterly subscription service that brings the best books of the season to a reader’s front door. There’s a box for everyone’s taste whether you’re an epicurean, aesthete or simply hungry for the best new fiction of the season.
For Elizabeth, there is no greater luxury than those stolen moments of leisure to read a good book. Slowing down, appreciating solitude, relishing the tactile experience inherent to reading a hardcover at home — the weight of the book, the smell and feel of the pages. That feeling was the catalyst to start quarterlane, about to enter its 3rd quarter.
SH: Elizabeth thank you for agreeing to chat with me. I know that quarterlane fans and The QL Edit readers will be curious to know who the genius curator is behind their favorite boxes. Let’s start from the beginning. What were some of your favorite books as a child? Favorite characters and authors?
EL: Thank you so much, Samantha! My favorite book as a child – and even still — is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgkin Burnett. My mother and I read this together when I younger — probably second or third grade. At bedtime, we would alternate reading pages and I would get lost in Sara’s world. I revisit this story every few years — more often now that I have daughters of my own. Sara’s story is one of grace and goodness. Even when she is faced with cruelty and loss – when everyone and everything in her world seems taken from her, Sara never loses her kindness or her hope. She sees beauty and magic within the bleakest circumstances and selflessly changes the world of those around her so that they may glimpse the magic as well. I just adore it. Whenever I read this story, I feel a bit closer to reclaiming the childhood certainty that a heart filled friendship, hope and kindness can change everything.
SH: Where did you grow up? Your sister is an author and you are a bookstore buyer and founder of a book box subscription company. Where did this passion come from? What were your parents into? What kinds of books were around your home as a kid?
EL: I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan. It’s a low-key college town and was a great, easy place to grow up. Both my sister and my brother are writers — my sister writes novels and my brother writes academic non-fiction. Because of this, people would frequently ask what I was writing or what my book was going to be and I never had an answer — just an awkward pause, really. I love to write and research, but I’ve never felt like there was a book in me and I felt fine with that. I knew I would share my passions in other ways, even if that way wasn’t always clear. My background is in contemporary art and so I couldn’t have predicted that my path would lead me to books. But with a little distance, it’s amazing to look back and really see that each step led me here — from my childhood, to our move to Westport, Massachusetts and finally working as the book buyer at Partners Village Store. With hindsight, those choices that seemed so scattered now seem to make sense. My parents are avid readers and so I did grow up with family reading all the time. And one of the best things my mother did when I was that she allowed me to read anything I wanted as long I was reading. So I would read the classics like “A Wrinkle In Time” with a lot of John Bellairs, Christopher Pike and Sweet Valley Twins sprinkled throughout. And that’s really how I fell in love with reading — having no limits, simply reading.
SH: You used to be a researcher for galleries and museums. What’s the connection for you, between art and literature? How do your interests in both overlap? Moreover, I love that you feature a limited edition artist print each season in addition to other gifts. What’s the experience you are hoping for people to have when they get a ql box?
EL: My first love will always be contemporary art and so at the start, I think I just wanted to find a way to marry these two loves in quarterlane — books and visual art. The two have always been intertwined for me. Out of the myriad of things a person can collect, books and art are it for me. Each adds such a richness to my life — whether it is a book that can shift my mood or reveal a new perspective, or a piece of art that opens my heart, or even makes me a bit uncomfortable and challenges me to examine that discomfort. I think each can crack us open in such important ways. Working in collaboration with artists each season has been the biggest joy for me and I hope that joy carries through when someone opens her QL box and holds a piece of artwork that was created specifically for her (or him).
SH: 900,000+ books are published each year. You must be super prescient to pull for quarterlane. I’ve noticed that the books you choose each season often become best sellers. How did you get that curatorial knack? How do you know what’s going to be a hit?
EL: Thank you! As a bookseller, we receive a lot of galleys and so I do have chance to read the books I choose before they are published, which is absolutely necessary. And there have been a few books — and will likely be many more — that I adore, but won’t be bestsellers and so I may have to defend them a bit. Whether it is a slow story with stunning prose, or a perspective that simply grabs me, I know not all of my choices will be the books that fly off the shelf. The independent bookstore community is a very collaborative group and there are so many resources and avenues through which we can share our thoughts and so I do look to other booksellers for insight and for support. That has been one of the most amazing things to discover — the cooperative and kind spirit amongst the indies — it is an exquisite example of the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
SH: We’re always talking about fun themes for the boxes to keep them fresh and exciting. Last season you had a Gentleman’s box and a Wellness box in addition to all of the others. How do you come up with these fun ideas? The winter season sold out in a matter of 2 weeks. Were you amazed? When you started quarterlane did you expect it to grow so quickly? Did a lot of people buy boxes as gifts or are you finding that people are mainly interested in subscribing?
EL: I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but there are times when I am fairly exclusive to one genre or another. When my kids were little, that genre was self-help. Whether it was parenting books (I went down the rabbit hole with that one!) or books on how to get my energy back, I couldn’t stop reading them! And so I knew I would offer a wellness box because I do find comfort in those books. That being said, I also believe that fiction is the best form of self-help. Walking around a bit in another character’s perspective has often shed light on my own life and character in incredible ways. And then the Gentleman’s box came from a love of three specific books — The Nix, Atlas Obscura, and Barbarian Days. I wanted to find a way to include those specific books and I thought they might be a good set for the guys — and the ladies, too! I really loved that box. It is fun coming up with different boxes each season — and it often is the result of wanting to include so many great books!
SH: Working on The QL Edit with you has been one of the most amazing projects I’ve ever worked on. It’s been really exciting putting together an editorial sister site to quarterlane where we can celebrate books, authors and the reading lifestyle. In addition to The QL Edit do you have any other plans to grow quarterlane? Did you read any helpful business books or have any useful conversations with other entrepreneurs while building this amazing company?
EL: Having you come onboard for quarterlane has been one of the biggest gifts in my life! And so I am very thankful for you, Samantha! I had the idea for quarterlane last winter and just dove in. I tend to do that — dive into a project and then figure out the logistics later. I learn as I go, trying to navigate the hiccups as they come along. And so, no, I didn’t really have the foresight to ask for advice at the start. Well, that’s not true. My sister is always my first call and sounding board for everything — so her advice has been essential! Courtney Peterson, of Logic & Grace, was a huge help to me when getting quarterlane off the ground. She brought a very keen and grounding business sense to my very romantic right-brain vision which was invaluable. And then, when you came on board for quarterlane, I really began to see new possibilities in how we could grow. I leap before I look, but I have been known to fret and second-guess and so your support and belief in quarterlane has helped me settle in and recognize the potential. It’s felt like kismet finding collaborators to work with at the perfect time as we evolve and grow and for that I am so thankful.
SH: In addition to being a book buyer, curator and entrepreneur, you are a running ambassador for Every Mother Counts and a mother to young girls. What are some stories you read with them or that you encourage them to read at home?
EL: I have been running for Every Mother Counts for over four years and it is one of the most important things I do. I will always find the time to run for them, and I remind my girls constantly why I am running— to make pregnancy and delivery safe for every mother, everywhere. I am not a natural athlete by any stretch and so my girls see me run, they cheer me on and it moves me to tears every time. I was born 3 months premature in 1978 and it was touch and go for both my mom and me. Had we not lived in Atlanta, Georgia where there was a neonatal unit at the hospital and had my parents not returned from Northern Michigan one day prior, I wouldn’t have lived. We were incredibly fortunate to come through that and so I carry that with me on every run. My husband and I are running the Big Sur Marathon for our tenth anniversary — we are in the middle of training right now and it’s often difficult to find the time, but when I remember why I am running, there is always time.
The girls and I often have a few books going at once. We are reading The Secret Garden right now, yet we will go back and forth and swap in some other stories every now and then — usually ones I remember with great fondness from my childhood. We read Bunnicula around Halloween, and I will always have a soft spot for Ramona Quimby, so right now we are swapping between Mary (from The Secret Garden) and Ramona. My eldest daughter is really into The Diary of a Wimpy Kid so she will read those at night to herself and my youngest will read anything. She’s my night owl, so I will often find her asleep with the light on and a book in her hand.
SH: Lastly, you read for work but also for pleasure. Where and when do you carve out space for yourself to read at home?
EL: I always read at night before bedtime. That’s how I relax and unwind. I am not the best sleeper, it often takes me a long time to fall asleep. It used to really stress me out (and it still does every now and then) but now I try to reframe my slightly sleepless nights as simply more time to read — which has been a great shift for me. I also listen to audiobooks on my runs, so that has been a great way to find more time, especially during marathon training! I tend to listen to mysteries and suspense while I run — it helps distract me from all of those miles!