Call of the Valley: Kathleen Madden was destined for Sassafras Books

Shelly Frome
Call of the Valley
Kathleen Madden read Mary Higgins Clark’s who-done-it series at age 12 and soon came across Agatha Christie.

It comes as no surprise that Kathleen Madden, the manager of Sassafras Bookstore, has always been an avid reader.

“As a child, I started off liking mysteries," she said. "That was my first love of reading and, obviously, Harry Potter. Every child, even now, falls in love with that fantasy world. It’s just magic. A wonderfully creative world with interesting characters we can all relate to. Goofy and crazy and Hermione was untamable. I saw myself as Hermione when I was eight. She was very book smart and I always took school very seriously, was always overachieving as a student. She was high-strung, bright and a little bit of a know-it-all like I was like at that age. And I loved how she saved the day more often than not even though she didn’t always get credit. She was my soul sister.”

She read Mary Higgins Clark’s who-done-it series at age 12 and soon came across Agatha Christie, “the godmother of all mystery storylines.” Everything else, she feels, is a variation of Christie’s ingenious plotting. She grew especially fond of Hercule Poirot’s unique sensibility and investigative techniques.

Kathleen Madden is the manager of Sassafras Bookstore.

“It’s the puzzles,” Madden said. “I’ve always enjoyed crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and escape room tales. Trying to figure it out along with the wonderful characters and a good storyline is something I’m always intrigued by."

She was living in Charlotte during this formative period and later attended college at the College of  Charleston (circa 1790) in South Carolina, majoring in arts management. There she studied the business side of the arts as something she could “sustain herself on” while residing in a captivating setting (shades of Harry Potter once again).  

“It was so historical, with vintage row houses, cobblestones, wonderful accommodating southern people, and the weeping angel gravestone," Madden said. "Lots of ghost stories there in an old hub of commerce and a great place for storytelling. All the things the oak trees have witnessed, the oldest over 500 years old. The first shots of the Civil War happened at Fort Sumter. George Washington’s home is still standing. It’s a southern gem.”

She stayed there for 10 years, running a few retail shops, meeting and greeting people all over the world. She finally moved to Black Mountain in fall 2017 and got to keep meeting interesting people, expanding her fondness of merchandizing, especially within the world of books. Madden loves creating an environment that makes people feel welcome and comfortable and the opportunity of offering them interesting variations on this theme. Since Sassafras Books added an upstairs, she has also created a seemingly never-ending children’s section.

Kathleen Madden displays some of the items available at Sassafras Books.

Becoming the manager seems predestined. Since an early age, Madden spent her summers with her sister and cousins at her grandparents’ cabin up on N.C. 9. Her mother still has a photo of her and her relations in front of an antique store that was destined to become Sassafras Books.

“And, there is the magic of the mountains," she said. "They vibrate and makes you feel something. People vacation here and never want to leave. This area, this little valley, makes everyone feel at home. It has a peacefulness and that special mountain magic that makes everyone feel they’re in a comfortable place for their soul. Nature, and trees and animals have a special life that the Cherokees knew. The stones in the mountains keep on  pulsing. It’s like a sigh as the weight of the world and everyday life is taken off from you.”

Madden said when she and her sister feel they’re having a bad day, they stop and realize it can never be that bad because they’re here. They get to drive into town and look at these mountains every day. She walks out onto her front porch and never fails to get this sense of peace.

Madden said she feels strongly about accepting people for who are no matter the walk of life or faith or ethnicity or income bracket or age. Some of her best friends are decades older, she said. Everyone has a place here.