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.
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.
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.
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.
Many 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.
David Foster Wallace
SCI-FI / FANTASY
George R.R. Martin
KID’S / YA
FILM / TV
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
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 Habits, January 30, 2009.
Robbins, Trina. “The Unsinkable Fear of Blogging.” RedRoom, 2009.
anonymous. “Cool Idea of the Day.” Shelf Awareness, September 26, 2011.