Bookstore: Skylight Books
Brief Bio: Southern California boy, junior high school heavy metal kid turned long hair punk. Educated by Doonesbury comics, Steve Martin LPs, and Woody Allen movies. Skateboarding to the used bookstores where discoveries of Kerouac, Brautigan, Nabokov, and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers inspired and brought the hunger. A BA in San Francisco, an MFA from CalArts, a spell at Big & Tall Books and Café. “Discovered” by general manager Kerry Slattery eating noodles at a Japanese fast food counter and recruited for Skylight Books a few months before it opened in 1996. Member of the “band” Ukefink (est. 1994). Board member of PEN Center USA. Recently started the website palmtreepalmtreepalmtree.com to celebrate the art of the short story.
What books recently rocked my world: Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan – read it as an ARC and I instantly started sending quotes to friends. Then we got to do an author event! That’s how it should work!
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli – I was in the hospital recently and when I was recovering I read this and I thought it was just a perfect example of what can be done with the graphic novel medium. It warps time.
Best damn event(s) we’ve hosted: Being at the store for 15 years I have a lot to choose from. One of my fondest memories is the first event I organized for Skylight: William Burroughs’ birthday party, February 5, 1997. My co-worker Garrett and I set up the store in honor of Burroughs with televisions playing films of Burroughs and inspired by his works, his voice over our sound system, a cake (blood-red, brown, with a disturbingly round hole in the middle with gummy worms coming out of it), and masks of beautiful Bill’s face. Not too many people showed up but it was wonderful and we felt like we had really celebrated something important. It turned out to be the last birthday of his lifetime.
Another that comes to mind is when Jonathen Lethem was on his tour for You Don’t Love Me Yet and my co-worker Arlo formed a band and wrote songs to some lyrics in the book. They “opened” for Lethem complete with a human kangaroo hopping around the store drinking whiskey. I got to cut the curtain (a spray painted sheet) and it was pure joy to have that sweet chaotic energy bouncing around the store.
Most entertaining author(s) we’ve hosted: David Mitchell is the quintessential capital “A” author. A reading by him makes you feel like you are witnessing something historic. The fact that we had Patti Smith here kind of freaks me out still. Hearing Kamau Daaood read his poems has been an honor. Some heroes like Mary Gaitskill, Dennis Cooper, Hubert Selby Jr., … and just the other night, Jeanette Winterson made me cry with the joy of being part of a place where stuff like this happens.
Strangest question a customer has ever asked: In my more svelte days a customer once asked me if I would walk up and down the aisles for her. She was scouting for a fashion show catwalk. Flattered, I did it, trying to walk like I had a book on my head. “Um, I’ll call the store if I need to reach you.”
Why our store kicks ass: Poets have been trying to figure out or describe Love since the invention of poetry, probably before. Is it trust? Is it pheromones? Is it lust? It’s kind of the same with something like Skylight Books. It is a special equation, a precise and organic mix of our friendly and freaky staff, our selection of literary big names and tiny zines, our bricks and wood, the tree growing in the middle of the store … What it comes down to is that when you walk into Skylight Books, there is a tangible feeling of belief in the written word.
What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome: The east side of Hollywood has long been part of the marginalized history of Los Angeles. Our store sits in the site of a past bookstore, Chatterton’s, which lends a literary history to our space and establishes us as part of an ongoing artistic movement on the fringe of glitzy Hollywood. Our customers rock because they are part of this community that appreciates Gary Panter, David Mitchell, Aaron Cometbus, Michelle Tea, Joe Matt, Miranda July, and many others – enough to support a place that carries their wares and hosts their events.
I promise you won’t find this at any other store: A section sign with a pictogram of an anarchy symbol, a pot leaf, an alien head (a grey), and The Eye of Providence.
Why I do what I do: I am a white collar brain in a blue collar body. Or vice-versa. Or something. I need to be in a space and a business with smart and creative people who know how to have fun. Hello Bookselling! And I’ve got the addiction … I visit bookstores on my days off.
If I weren’t selling books I’d be: … titling them. A customer of Skylight Books since we opened, Cecil Castellucci, was writing a book and I told her, “You should call it Boyproof.” She sold it and I have named or at least helped in naming all her books since then – 9 books! The Year of the Beasts comes out in May!
Books that changed my life: The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin (post-modern caper for kids!), Feminine Hjinx by Dodie Bellamy (instantly changed how I viewed my own writing), the stories of Raymond Carver (very funny when you and a friend read them aloud to each other), Ask the Dust by John Fante (my Cali-Italian half is genetically attached to this book), Eightball comics by Daniel Clowes (insecurities and weirdness mixing, just like in my brain).
Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party: Donald Barthelme, Kenneth Patchen, and Dorothy Parker. Whoa.
Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life: “Mammoth” by Pelican for when I walk into a room, “Anything” by Mississippi John Hurt for when I am at home doing my thing, and all of the double-album Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen for when I am hanging out with you!
My last meal request: In-N-Out cheeseburger, Casa Bianca eggplant and sausage pizza, Macallan scotch, dark coffee, chocolate cake. Oh, and quinoa with Bragg’s and brewer’s yeast.