Interior of Arkana Books and owner George Dodge. Photos courtesy of A. J. Miller

Arkana Books and an interview with George Dodge

Interview Aug 16, 2023

by Emily Bowles

Arkana Books seems suspended in a world without time or place. Positioned just off the beaten path by the Fox River, the bookstore invites people to wander in and lose themselves among pages of carefully curated books, all with their own spellbinding power and picked by owner George Dodge because they are written by authors who, she says, “don’t get the shelf space they deserve.”

The books at Arkana tell a new story, one that disrupts dominate narratives by centering the voices of historically underrepresented authors. “I just feel there needs to be space dedicated to voices historically marginalized, silenced, or traumatized—the voices that have either been intentionally suppressed or passively silenced and ignored,” explains George.

That might sound academic, but the books are not, in no small part because part of George’s passion for books comes from her love of all things horror. “Growing up, I read a lot of coming-of-age stories, and as a teen, most of the books I loved were about struggling teenagers,” she said. “Something shifted for me when I read Mexican Gothic. I began to gravitate toward horror.”

For George, horror isn’t about nightmare-inducing gore but rather serves as a vehicle for sociopolitical allegory. “Horror’s themes can be complex, and authors often use that complexity in transformative ways: they take what’s happening in the real world and defamiliarize it, making it surreal so they can use it to talk about everything from capitalism to politics.” Horror is often anti-imperialist and anti- capitalist, she continues. “It shows people fighting back against oppressors and uses revenge arcs.”

Of course, horror by marginalized authors might not be every reader’s cup of tea— and that’s fine. George loves identifying books that might bridge gaps between what people are used to reading and books that tackle unfamiliar themes, in different genres, or by authors they might not know. Many people have grown up learning a single story, favoring dominant idioms and finding comfort in the fictions that have been labelled either great or popular, but they can find gateway books, notes George. For example, Jane Austen votaries and fans of the Brontës could easily lean into Mexican Gothic, George says, but for fans of Dostoevsky, dystopian or apocalyptic horror novels might have more appeal. “There are entry points,” she says, “for readers to begin to delve into more diverse authors and genres.”

Finding those perfect matches for readers is one of the reasons why Arkana came into being. “There’s a solitude that comes from being around books,” says George, “which can feel comforting, and for me, it’s amazing to serve as a conduit, to connect people with a book. There’s something intimate about the shared solitude that brings.”

Plus, in a fragmented and increasingly disembodied culture, the physicality of books as objects matters. “Books are grounding. They let your thoughts move in a singular direction, without distraction or competition. There’s something different and healing about books, and there’s also a security in them, that sense of having an unchangeable archive, a text-based reality when so much of the information we receive is impermanent and malleable.”

That sense of shared solitude and materiality would not, of course, be possible without community. For George, being able to create a space within The Draw has meant feeling embraced by a community with shared values and a vision of stories coming together, sometimes on the page and at other times through the conversations, encounters, and events engendered by those stories. Built on and of books but also with relationships at its heart, George envisions Arkana as an almost living, breathing ecosystem that will organically evolve as readers find the store and, in turn new aspects of themselves on the pages she’s so carefully compiled for them. As much an archive of human experiences as of texts themselves, she hopes Arkana will grow into a bookstore that hosts author signings and poetry readings while always retaining that magical set-apartness from dailiness that it currently provides.

Located at 800 S. Lawe Street Suite 303 within The Draw, Arkana is open from Wednesday–Sunday; 10am-1pm and 3:30pm-7:30pm.

Interior of Arkana Books and owner George Dodge. Photos courtesy of A. J. Miller