Title: Manager/co-owner/head buyer/bookkeeper etc.
Bookstore: BookPeople of Moscow
Brief Bio: I grew up a confirmed bookworm (yet still athletic!) in small-town Iowa, graduated as an English major from Central College, then moved west to Missoula, Montana, for graduate school in Literature. I met my Seattle-born husband in Missoula, and we lived in Sitka, Alaska for a while (where I learned the book business at Old Harbor Books) before moving to the Palouse region of Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho in 2001 when our son was a baby. We love it here most of the time. Now I’m a University of Idaho graduate, too, after going back for a French degree a few years ago, after twenty years of obsessive Francophilia.
What books recently rocked my world: I just read the advance copy of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, coming out in May 2014. It was stunningly good, the best novel I’ve read in decades and might end up being in top 10 books of my whole life. Everything else I’ve read recently is still in its shadow… Truthfully I haven’t really been able to pick up anything else, except for Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which was thoroughly wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading Hyperbole and a Half.
Best damn events we’ve hosted: A couple of MFA theses defenses last spring were surprisingly moving and special to have happen in the store. The MFA candidates were so nervous… but by the end everybody was laughing in a good way. It was an honor to be part of such a special event. Spoonapalooza: a one-night art show by local artists, curated by a woodturner whose wooden spoon graced the cover of book published last year… Readings by Jess Walter. Kim Barnes. Rebecca Solnit. Anthony Doerr. All incredible. For serendipitous timing, having Adam Johnson reading in the store just a few days before his Pulitzer win in April was pretty awesome. If I’d only had him sign ALL his backstock instead of just half a dozen! For pure poetic transcendence, our own local but famous poet, Robert Wrigley. He was deeply funny and yet very dignified, and apparently had never been offered a beer in a bookstore before and so grateful to get one.
Most entertaining authors we’ve hosted: For comic relief and profanity it would be hard to beat Steve Almond, who visited us last year, Brandon Schrand, and Jonathan Evison, this fall, all courtesy of the University of Idaho MFA program. Helpless tears of laughter and rolling in the aisles for all those guys. My personal favorite so far though is Robert Wrigley. I bet that guy could get the bears that live near him in the woods to settle in around the fire for a poetry reading.
Strangest question a customer has ever asked: “Do you have any books about incest, from the point of view that’s it’s not a bad thing?”
Why our store kicks ass: Could be the bamboo hardwood floor and shelving. Maybe the gigantic beanbags in the children’s area. The fact that we celebrated our 40th anniversary this year? (We’ve been the owners for just two.) That we’re the source of the New York Times daily newspaper for the entire Palouse region? The impressive displays of art, cards, jewelry, pens, artsy potholders, handmade leather journals etc. made by local artists? I’m going to have to say it is my amazing staff — Jesica DeHart, Nick Brunsfeld, Mary Yoest, and my husband Walt, who work so hard every day and are unfailingly helpful, polite, knowledgeable, and fabulous every time you turn around.
What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome: Within a block of our store is the town’s artsy movie house, a cafe, a doughnut shop, a real wood-fired, Neopolitan style pizza joint, a gyro spot where I can get a bowl of soup for lunch for less than $3 plus they never give me dirty looks for digging out the caramels from the candy bowl, the food co-op, a lovely wine bar and restaurant for a romantic dinner out, a bike shop, a sporting goods store, a Mexican restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a pawn shop, a tie-dye shop, and a super styling’ clothing consignment store. We are on the hippest strip of Main street for sure. And our customers not only shop at these other places but also read the New York Times, browse in our math and science and history sections for the fun of it, and print out lists of books that they’ve looked up online and bring them to me to order for them. Our generous customers also just purchased enough books to put under the Christmas trees of over 100 low-income children in our community. Let’s not forget the old geezers (their word) who gather to drink coffee in the back a couple of mornings every week. Every once in a while they give us cookies or madeleines or banana bread, if they have any left over.
Why I do what I do: There are just a few essential things in life beyond food and shelter, and one of those essentials is books. So while I am generally not much of a consumer, I feel strongly that everyone should own some books of her own. So selling books is a noble calling, and running a great bookstore is a public service. It’s what I do instead of running for mayor or serving on the school board. I feel a bit like the wife of that Chinese dissident that I just read about, who is under house arrest and reads books like she breathes air, simply to live. I’m here because there are lots of people who need books to live.
If I weren’t selling books I’d be: Dividing my time between Idaho and France, writing books. Taking more French classes. Or working in a library.
Books that changed my life: Charlotte’s Web. A Wrinkle in Time. Omnivore’s Dilemma. Long Ago in France (M.F.K. Fisher). The Tummy Trilogy (Calvin Trillin).
Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party: Wow, this is a tough one. Just because you love their books, doesn’t mean they’ll be great party guests. I’d take the risk on Billy Collins, Anne Lamott, and David Sedaris. Doesn’t that sound like a fun group? On a different evening, perhaps a colder, darker, night, I’d invite Jacqueline Winspear, Donna Leon, and Laurie King.
Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life: “My Life” and “Don’t Ask Me Why” (Billy Joel), “All Will Be Well” (Gabe Dixon).
My last meal request: Can I cook it myself? If so, I’ll make my own cheeseburger from grass-fed beef just the way I like it, with bacon and barbecue sauce, and my own home fries with homemade ketchup. Then some organic chocolate ice cream, but only the best, darkest, richest brand.