A Bookseller’s Reading Snapshot
I like to hear about people’s reading habits—not just what they’re reading, but how. In the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, on the train, on the toilet, three books at a time, strictly poetry, in a deep musician biography phase—whatever. I like to hear when people are struggling to read—maybe because they can’t find the time or can’t find a book that holds them, maybe because they’re in the throes of grief or just having too good a time. It occurs to me every once in a while that some people just don’t care about books the way I just don’t care about, say, golf. Part of my job, if I’m being completely honest, is to make books look good, and make the reading life look good. I need people to buy in to the idea that owning stacks of books is important, that books are worth spending money on, especially since it’s entirely possible to own zero books and read as many as you want for free. I love this challenge. I hate capitalism but I love selling books, talking about books, and trying to learn as much as I can about why and how people read.
The place, generally speaking, where I feel most “free” to read, is in bed, before sleeping, after I’ve written in my five-year journal. I started my Tamara Shopsin journal three years ago and I cannot sleep until I’ve written something down—it’s a mental logging off for me, downloading my day somewhere safe and physical, which frees me to read without Bowsers from the day sneak-attacking my brain, enticing me to regret what I said to so-and-so or how I handled xyz parenting situation. Not now, Bowser! I’m reading. I also work hard to clear swaths of daytime hours on the weekend at least a couple of times a month, actually schedule this as I would a doctor’s appointment. Otherwise it won’t happen. The rest of my reading happens catch-as-catch can, while I’m waiting for other things, when I have a surprise thirty minutes, etc.
I read a lot because that’s my job, and it’s my job, in many ways, because I read a lot. The reading a lot part came first, and led me down a very winding path to where I am now. Here’s what I’ve been reading:READ MORE >
October 21st, 2020 / 9:00 am
“3490 people bought something besides the bestseller” — Talking with Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books
May 3rd is California Bookstore Day, and some bookstores in California have giant worms for mascots. Growing up, that’s where I tried to buy as many of those “code-your-own-adventure” QBASIC books (what were those called?) as possible. Years later, home for Christmas, I bought a first edition copy of Gordon Lish’s Mourners at the Door and tried to convince the bookstore owner to care. “Oh yeah, Lish,” he said. Being as this was California, it wasn’t inconceivable to take an “oh yeah” a certain way, so I asked him: “Did you know him?” And he said “Not if I could help it” and walked away.
Other bookstores have coffeeshops above them or below them. Some bookstores are in old firehouses. (Even if they’re not really bookstores). Occasionally, an architectural firm will have an empty storefront, and they will let you put a bookstore in there. Some bookstores are famous, and you have to be quiet going up the stairs to the good room because movie people are asking Lawrence Ferlinghetti about gold-plated avocados. If you’re a new bookstore, it might be beautiful to sell only poetry and run the store with your spouse and your baby. If you’re an old bookstore, Adam Robinson will probably ask you some questions about the kids painting outside. When you’re a mighty bookstore with your own highway attraction sign, you might put another bookstore inside yourself, like Grey Matter Books did with Troubador. Sometimes you will eat a lot of cheese in a bookstore and buy the books that Peter Gizzi tells you to buy, as I have done in Amherst Books. Other times you will be stranded waiting for a ride in some commuter town in New Jersey, so you will spend all your time at a bookstore until it closes, and the owner will get on his motorcycle and kick you out but give you a free Javier Marias novel because he feels bad for you.
Remember when it wasn’t stressful to be in a bookstore? And you weren’t guiltily squaring your desire for the world’s eyes on your own goo with the sheer magnitude of book stuff that already exists? And it just seemed where-am-I-going-to-get-enough-hours-and-light amazing that all these books—in their bound and sentenced way—felt like talking? When I think about California Bookstore Day, I think about giant worms, and I think about that feeling.
One bookstore instrumental in starting and sustaining bookstore culture in all of Sweet Cali is Green Apple Books in San Francisco. If you live in the Bay Area, or you’ve made stopovers on a regular basis, you probably know Green Apple. They’re down there in the Richmond district, their store is huge and full of good surprises—used books, new books, LPs—and they’ve got that sweet green guy out front. Publishers Weekly recently agreed with the book-buying elbow patches in San Francisco and smartly awarded Green Apple Bookstore of the Year.
Green Apple was started in 1967 by a former United Airlines radio technician named Richard Savoy, but now it’s owned by two Kevins—Hunsanger and Ryan—and a Pete: Mulvihill. They are the big dream scheme cookers behind California Bookstore Day, which they want to push to national prominence on par with Record Store Day. They’re active in a ton of San Francisco area stuff—check this lovely listy quote from PW: “founding the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Association, participating on the boards of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Clement Street Merchants Association, and advising Litquake and the San Francisco Library’s One City One Book program”—and sometimes they give you tacos at midnight when Murakami releases a book called 1Q84.
To find out more about what it’s like behind-the-scenes at Green Apple and to shine some hype on Bookstore Day, I asked Green Apple co-owner Pete Mulvihill a few questions, and he was gracious enough to dish some great answers.
Read the interview below the jump!
May 1st, 2014 / 12:00 pm
“Relationships first, sales second.”
To further the conversation, here are two things about “community” and bookstores that have influenced my thinking on the subject.
First, above, is video of a talk by the amazing Matthew Stadler. In it, he discusses the future of the brick and mortar bookstore. It’s the source of the title for this post.
The second is a short essay from my local alt-weekly, The Stranger. In it, Books Editor Paul Constant takes all the talk of community building and asks someone to go ahead and put up (or rent out) an actual building:
So here’s what we need: a fairly large bar, nothing fancy, not too expensive. Open almost all the time. Maybe a typewriter here or there for ambience. Ratty books on shelves. Some sort of an area that can easily become a stage. Chairs. Tables. No TV, no Wi-Fi. No nattering blogs or flickering videos to distract from the words you’re writing, speaking, or reading. A jukebox stuffed with Edith Frost, the Magnetic Fields, and the Pogues. That’s about it for the hardware.
Both are on the right track, I think.
September 22nd, 2011 / 2:48 pm
September 20th, 2011 / 5:47 pm
NEW STORES: The Paper Cave & Weightless Books
Courtesy of two of the best book producers I know: Zach Dodson (of featherproof books) and Caroline Picard (of Green Lantern Gallery & Press): a new independent online book store, and rumored brick&mortar location in Chicago. All sorts of local favorites are among the first titles presented. This has me really excited; nice to see another outlet for great books gathered, as well as a built in support system for readings and other art.
And next: Weightless Books, an ebook store. Again: lots of great presses, all sorts of prices and formats (all DRM free). Fill up those chips. Say goodbye to money.
Two Things to Make It Rain
It’s warm out.
1. Commenter kirby pointed to this essay by Jim Rossignol about video games and architecture.
2. Bookstore Memory: I went to this bookstore in Appleton, Wisconsin years ago, and noticed a bunch of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion reviews in frames on the walls. A place of honor was reserved for one from Rolling Stone that was on the same page as a Bob Dylan review. I talked to the owner, and found out that she was the mother of JSBX guitarist Judah Bauer. She told me he had been really excited to see his band reviewed so close to Dylan because, even if he wouldn’t admit it to his punk rock/noise rock friends, Dylan was his favorite artist. “All the tapes in his room were labeled Honeymoon Killers and stuff, but they were all actually Dylan records.” She told me that story while I waited for my change—I was buying, I think, Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac—and I’m 67% certain she was hoping if she dazzled me with rock gossip, I would forget she owed me for the $20 I had given her.
Got a bookstore memory? Comment.
July 8th, 2010 / 7:38 pm
Learned about this from Matt Bell: Ann Arbor’s Shaman Drum bookstore is closing. In good Matt Bell news, his book How They Were Found will be published by Keyhole Press next Fall. Of course, as all the bookstores will have closed by then, you will have to buy it online.