Opening Third Mind Books in downtown Ann Arbor has been a dream of Arthur Nusbaum’s for years. He’s been an enthusiast of the “Beat Generation” since his college days at the U-M and has been selling their work online since 2010. Now he has a brick-and-mortar presence, too—next to Underground Sounds on E. Washington. 

Nusbaum with a photo of his meeting with William S. Burroughs. Joe Provenzano’s selection is On the Road by Jack Kerouac. | Photo by J. Adrian Wylie

“It’s an exponential thing to be doing something like this,” Nusbaum says. “We worked very hard to achieve a pretty good stable of buyers and clientele online. Now we want that good old downtown Ann Arbor foot traffic. 

“It’s the culmination, I hope, of a dream.” 

Nusbaum, who grew up in Southfield, took an honors English class taught by the late Herbert C. Barrows Jr. “He happened to coincidentally attend Harvard University, the Class of 1936, and was exactly the same age as and was a colleague of [Beat icon William S.] Burroughs,” Nusbaum recalls.

“I was just beginning to get interested in the Beats—actually [gonzo journalist] Hunter S. Thompson was my first interest—somewhat peripheral to the Beats.” The professor “told me little anecdotes and would tease me about my interest in Thompson and the Beats. He was more into classic literature. Although in one of his classes he quoted [Allen] Ginsberg–the poem ‘Kaddish’—and it was very emotional. Some of the women in the class even cried.” 

Later, after he’d graduated and was “working in business and starting a family,” he came across a copy of Burroughs’ Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict and was “riveted … I read and read and began collecting … 

“Maybe I’m a little twisted to say this, but I found it to be a cozy depravity. I enjoyed reading his prose, the way one would watch a really good noir film,” Nusbaum says. “You’ll see various collectible copies” of Junkie in his store.

In the 1980s and 90s collecting Beats writing and memorabilia “was parallel with much more standard ‘gigs,’ as it were.” He was actively involved in commercial real estate while raising his daughter and son, now grown. But “all along I was reading, I was collecting … attending conferences and writing.

“The apotheosis of this enthusiasm,” Nusbaum emails, “was my meeting with William S. Burroughs at his home during 1995, about two and a half years before his death.” When he opened the business in 2010, he named it for The Third Mind, Burroughs’ 1977 “cut-up” collaboration with artist/poet/novelist Brion Gysin. 

Joe Provenzano is Third Mind’s archivist and managing curator—Nusbaum calls him “my prodigious protege.” His longtime assistant, Karen McIntyre, will be helping out, too. “She’s a good sport,” Nusbaum says. “She made the transition from real estate … to surreal estate.” 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Beat generation as “a movement of young people in the 1950s who rejected conventional society and favored Zen Buddhism, modern jazz, free sexuality, and recreational drugs.” Third Mind’s collections include “collectible antiquarian books, journals, broadsides, various ephemera & even a few artworks,” emails Nusbaum. “Our core specialty has been and remains the great figures of the Beat Generation, their predecessors and progeny,” including “the iconic first edition/ first printing of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road hardcover in dust jacket (1957),” with a price tag of $4,000. 

For those who aren’t in the market for a $4,000 first edition, Provenzano says, they’re “stocking a bunch of City Lights titles—City Lights being the great publishing house started by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the early 1950s … very affordable, under $20. Handpicked by Arthur and me. 

“Also, we’re going to have a small staff recommendations table that is going to feature selections from Arthur, and our two other recently hired associates, Wes [Bostwick] and Eli [Neumann], that are going to be no more than $20. Starter volumes, to get people interested and start communicating some of the value that we know to be there when it comes to the Beats and the great relevance they have to many different disciplines and eras and people in life. 

“I think the location is ideal,” says landlord Ed Shaffran, a longtime friend of Nusbaum. “You’ve got a unique little cluster—small, home-grown, local, owners-in-the store retailers. It’s not the big-box people. To me, it’s original Ann Arbor.” 

 “It’s the heart, baby,” says Nusbaum. “It’s the heart of downtown.” 

Third Mind Books, 118 E. Washington, (734) 994–3241. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m.