Bookseller

For a number of years, I worked as a bookseller. It was my “day job.” I enjoyed it not only because I truly love books, but also because I loved working with authors. They’re my kind of people.

During my tenure as a bookseller, I was mostly employed at The Booksmith, a once leading independent bookstore located in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. (After The Booksmith, I worked for a short time at Book Passage in Marin County. And after that, I got a real job, as Director of Marketing and Sales at the Arion Press, a world renown fine press publisher located in San Francisco.)

As a bookseller, I was a jack of all trades, though I primarily managed The Booksmith’s author event program. [See below.]  At various times, I also worked as a buyer, section manager, publicist, and liaison to community groups and the publishing industry.

For nine years, I also served on the Board of Directors of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, a regional trade association. During my tenure, the NCIBA developed the Book Sense (later IndieBound) branding campaign, which was adopted for national use by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). I coined the widely adopted phrase “Independent bookstores for independent minds.” I also served on the Bookseller Advisory Board of the Paris Review, and have over the years advised and consulted with publishers, authors, booksellers and other allied groups on business, marketing, and promotional strategies.

by Annie Leibovitz
Acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz took this snapshot (of my wife & I) after signing 200 books in 20 minutes.

On a number of occasions, I was a speaker and panelist at both regional and national conventions. My articles profiling movers and shakers in the industry, as well as best practices and related topics, were published in various trade journals and industry newsletters (American Bookseller, Publisher’s Weekly, Bookselling This Week, etc…); some of my articles have also been adapted for coursework by the American Booksellers Association, and as promotional material by the National Poetry Foundation.

I created The Booksmith’s pioneering website, which launched in 1995, just a few months after amazon.com debuted. As webmaster, I initiated news-making promotional projects in partnership with publishers & authors including gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, author & illustrator William Joyce, write / cartoonist Lynda Barry, and the acclaimed short story writer George Saunders, among others. Early on, The Booksmith website was even featured in TIME magazine.

As events coordinator, I developed and managed all aspects of a series recognized as one of the very best on the West Coast. I acted as a producer (which meant selecting, promoting, and hosting) nearly 1000 events over the course of a decade; the events program received wide-ranging coverage, and was twice named “Best in the City” by the SF Weekly. Over the years, I put on many memorable and even historic events with all manner of bestselling writers, including a number of Pulitzer, Booker, and National Book Award winners. There were also Academy Award winners,  Presidential candidates, distinguished historians and poets, news makers, and celebrities. As a person of Polish descent, I am especially proud of having hosted the Nobel Prize winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. It was one of his very last events in the United States.

with Neil Gaiman
At one of the handful of events I put on with bestselling author Neil Gaiman (center)

The first event I put on at the Booksmith was with the legendary science fiction writer Robert Silverberg. The last was with the renowned film critic David Thomson. In between came an exclusive event with music legend Neil Young (covered in the New York Times), multiple blockbuster events with Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers, and David Sedaris, the first Bay Area bookstore appearances by Chuck Palahniuk, Sarah Waters, and China Mieville, and the last ever reading by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

neil young event
Artist James Mazzeo and musician Neil Young sign copies of Greendale – their only event anywhere!

The Booksmith became a must-visit store, and acclaimed writers such as Margaret Atwood, Susan Sontag, Elmore Leonard, Salman Rushdie, Derek Walcott and John Ashbery all dropped by to autograph books; I gave the Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney a lift from his hotel, and Joan Didion kissed me goodbye after her signing. The store also developed a special relationship with playwright Arthur Miller, who autographed more than 1000 books, including the 50th anniversary edition of Death of a Salesman.

introducingMany local authors thought of The Booksmith as their home. Some of the locals I worked with included Daniel Handler and his alter-ego Lemony Snicket, novelists Kathy Acker and William T. Vollmann, critics Ben Fong-Torres, Greil Marcus and Susie Bright, and various members and associates of the Grateful Dead. After-all, the store was located in the Haight-Ashbury!

Perhaps I’ve gone on too long about my previous career, but as I stated at the beginning, I loved working as a bookseller. I am proud of my efforts. And, I think I made a difference.

Someday, I’ll have to put together a slideshow of snapshots and video clips from my many events. In the meantime, here is a checklist of some of the more memorable events I produced. Authors marked with an asterisk* represent those with whom I did multiple events.

AMERICAN NOVELISTS

David Foster Wallace
George Saunders*
Jonathan Lethem*
Denis Johnson
Jim Harrison
Stuart Dybek
Rick Moody*
Paul Auster
James Ellroy*
Sherman Alexie*

BRITISH NOVELISTS

Michael Ondaatje
Kazuo Ishiguro
Martin Amis*
Irvine Welsh*
Nick Hornby*
David Mitchell*
Jeanette Winterson
John Lanchester
Monica Ali
DBC Pierre

PULITZER WINNERS

Jeffrey Eugenidies*
Michael Chabon*
Adam Johnson*
Richard Ford
Junot Diaz
Jane Smiley
Annie Proulx
Oscar Hijuelos
Robert Olen Butler*
Robert Hass

SCI-FI  / FANTASY

George R.R. Martin
Terry Pratchett*
Harlan Ellison*
Ursula LeGuin
William Gibson*
Neal Stephenson*
Robert Jordan
Anne Rice
Clive Barker*
Kim Stanley Robinson*

ARTISTS

Annie Leibovitz
Joel Peter Witkin
Ruth Bernhard
Cole Weston
William Claxton
Ralph Steadman
Maira Kalman
Don Bachardy
Brian Froud*
Mick Rock*

MUSICIANS

Patti Smith*
David Byrne*
Joe Jackson
Eric Burdon
Grace Slick
Judy Collins*
Ray Manzarek (Doors)*
Gene Simmons (KISS)
Nick Mason
Van Dyke Parks

KID’S / YA

Hilary Knight
Philip Pullman
Remy Charlip*
Jasper Fforde*
Lois Lowry
Garth Nix
Peter Sis*
Eoin Colfer
Rosemary Wells
Francesca Lia Block

POETS

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Michael McClure*
Anne Waldman*
Diane DiPrima*
Donald Hall
Robert Bly
Ed Hirsch
Bei Dao
Thom Gunn*
August Kleinzahler*

COMIX

Art Spiegelman*
Lynda Barry*
Bizarro*
Chris Ware
Charles Burns
Daniel Clowes*
Adrine Tomine*
Alison Bechdel
Marjane Satrapi
Harvey Pekar*

FILM / TV

Ray Harryhausen
Michael Palin
Gloria Stuart
Peter Coyote
Wes Craven
Mike Farrell
George Takei
Chuck Barris*
Whit Stillman
Alan Lee

CELEBRITIES

John Hodgeman
Margaret Cho
Dan Savage*
Scott Simon
Anthony Rapp
Harry Shearer
Tommy Chong
Eric Bogosian*
Forrest Ackerman
Mariel Hemingway

OTHERS

George McGovern
Sen. Gary Hart
Daniel Ellsberg
John Dean
Huston Smith
Howard Zinn
Camille Paglia
Donald Richie
Robert Thurman*
Simon Winchester

What follows is a checklist of some of the media I received during my time as a bookseller. As well, I appeared a number of times in both Publisher’s Weekly and Shelf Awareness (click through to an index of articles). In connection to my work in the industry, I also appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, Japanese radio, and what was once known as web-TV.

Casuso, Jorge. “Dusk of Aquarius.” Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1992.
— I’m quoted in this article about the Haight Ashbury

kathy acker poster
I designed this punkish poster for the late great Kathy Acker. She loved it, and we went out drinking afterwords.

Robbins, Cynthia. “Little booksellers big with readers.” San Francisco Examiner, July 21, 1996.

Tranter, John. “Bookstores in the USA and Canada.” Jacket, July, 1997. (Australia)

“Celeb’s works are critic’s worst literary nightmares.” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 29, 1997.

Mantell, Suzanne. “In the Shadow of the Giants.” UTNE Reader, Sept.-Oct. 1997.

Garchik, Leah. “Personals – Assessing the Haight.” San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 1997.

anonymous. “Internet Filter Program Blocks The Booksmith.” Bookselling This Week, July 28, 1997.

Orrick, Phyllis. “Unspun.” SF Weekly, August 13, 1997.

Shapiro, Molly. “Voices of Young Booksellers.” American Bookseller, November 1, 1997.

Stamper, Chris. “Banned On The Web,” TIME Digital. November 5, 1997.

Tranter, John. “My Web: A Specialist’s Sites.” Sydney Morning Herald, May 30, 1998. (Australia)

Fost, Dan. “High-Tech Storytelling.” San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1998.

Watson, Chris. “Community bookstores take on the Net, but keep a cozy image.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 7, 2000.

Stillman, Whit. “Book Tour Confidential.” Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2000.

Muller, Carol Doup. “Topps-selling authors,” San Jose Mercury News, November 26, 2000.

Garchik, Leah. “Personals.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 2009.

Champion, Edward. “Thomas Gladysz Laid Off from Booksmith.” Reluctant HabitsJanuary 30, 2009.

Robbins, Trina. “The Unsinkable Fear of Blogging.” RedRoom, 2009.

anonymous. “Cool Idea of the Day.” Shelf Awareness, September 26, 2011.