A life of “organized chaos” in The Bookery

Lexington’s downtown bookstore, headed by Marysue Forrest, holds not only 50,000 books, but just as many artifacts of the past.


The Bookery is a brief walk away from Washington and Lee’s campus, sitting in between Lexington Pet Place and The Palms. It’s been a community staple for 34 years. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ’23.

Julie Ham

The Bookery in downtown Lexington offers an escape into an “organized chaos” of books, a term coined by owner Marysue Forrest.

For 34 years, the store has served the Lexington community as one of the primary book retailers, with Forrest as its owner for the majority of that time.

The store is full of signs displaying humorous sayings that half-heartedly poke fun at the store. Books are stuffed into bookshelves horizontally, forgoing the normal outwards spine orientation. A customer walks through almost not to search for a particular book, but to just happen to stumble upon it.

“The most dangerous product is the book on the bottom of the pile,” Alexis Park, ’25, said.

There’s a sign placed chest-height on the shelf of classics and fiction that reads, “Some people might  think of The Bookery as a place of disorganized chaos, but let them think what they will. I say it is an  institution of ‘organized chaos.’”

Forrest said the joking signs are not to be taken seriously.

“We try to laugh and have a sense of humor,” she said.

Forrest grew up in Lexington. She said she “couldn’t wait to get away” as a child. 

The only thing Forrest enjoyed, she said, was school where she loved to read — especially the classics.

After moving around with her military husband 20 times in 20 years,   

Forrest found herself in Dallas working in management at  B. Dalton’s, which later became Barnes and Noble.

But she eventually came back home.

“Sometime after all that, I decided to move back to Virginia to Lexington for whatever reason… [to] see if I could fit in and find something meaningful,” Forrest said.

In Lexington, she befriended a local couple who had started the Bookery, which they modeled after a book describing how to organize a bookstore.

She became manager almost immediately upon her arrival due to her experience  in  bookstore  management. The couple soon became preoccupied with community service and relieved ownership to Forrest.

“I was very fortunate,” she  said. “[I was] Johnny on the spot, just where I needed to be at the right time.”

She has made the place her own ever since.

Forrest cultivates a sense of bookish community within the piled-high book stacks galore. She loves to exchange a word or two with every customer that walks in, or at the very least exchange names.

Many of the customers are regulars who come in to pick up their papers and talk with Forrest. That includes Chaeyon Jang, ’25.

“The bookstore is always such a nice place to walk into to browse or chat,” Jang said.

Forrest attributes her ability to forge connections to her by-hand bookkeeping system. The store uses no modern technology, save a telephone  —  Forrest described it as “old-fashioned.”

“We have two big huge Rolodexes where we store cards of credit,” Forrest said. “And so I’ve had young people come and look at them and say, ‘What’s that?”

There are still many books to be kept. Forrest spends at least six or seven hours processing and cataloguing books by hand on an almost weekly basis.

A local high schooler comes to help occasionally, but most of the time, she works alone.

Forrest said she’s worked seven days a week for over 30 years, with just four or five breaks in between  for  weeklong vacations.

Despite the fact that the store carries over 50,000 books, Forrest worries for the future of the Bookery. She said the store has been on “struggle mode” recently, with the main goal being to get the bills paid at the end of the day.

Nevertheless, Forrest said the book purchasing process is an “addiction.”

“I’ve been a very happy camper,” Forrest said. “I finally found happiness.”