Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Carol Spurling of BookPeople of Moscow talks about favorite books, community and putting the right book in the right person's hands

Carol Spurling at BookPeople of Moscow is just fantastic. I loved talking with her because she's so genuinely interested in books and people and her stories are just wonderful. Thank you, thank you, Carol! And watch out for their new website launching this week: www.bookpeopleofmoscow.com.
BookPeople is in transition and under new management. Tell us about that, please.
BookPeople was started in 1973 and has been downtown ever since. Last year the longtime owner (the second) decided to retire and there was about a year of doubt about the future of the store. But there were a lot of us that didn't want to live in a town without an indie bookstore, and a few very special people who did a lot of groundwork helped pair me (and my husband Walt) with another couple (Steffen and Nicole Werner) as business partners and together we have been able to keep BookPeople going and make it even better than it was before. We, the third set of owners, took over on January 1 and remodeled, restocked, and restaffed the store, and reopened on February 22, 2012. The community has been 100% behind us from the beginning. This is an exciting time to be in the indie book business. Things are going our way. BTW our new website will launch later this week, at www.bookpeopleofmoscow.com.
What’s the community of Moscow, Idaho like and why is it the perfect place for a bookstore? (Not that anywhere is not a perfect place for a bookstore!)
First of all, the people are wonderful; really engaged and aware. We couldn't ask for better customers. As for the town itself: a middle-sized family-friendly community with a university in town, and another university only 8 miles away, gives us all the best qualities of a small town (tight-knit community, safety, no traffic problems, walkable, access to outdoor recreation, good schools) combined with all the advantages the university brings (arts and culture, young people, vibrant downtown food and drink scene, educated population, activists, artists, and organizers, farmers market, food co-op, etc.). I love the mix of rural and farm folk who have been here all their lives, faculty and staff of all ages and backgrounds, and the constant new arrivals who bring new ideas and energy. Our downtown and overall quality of life just keeps getting better and better. And, having previously worked in a bookstore where the busy season was during the summer tourist rush (Old Harbor Books in Sitka, Alaska), I am really grateful to be in a community where the dead of summer is the slowest season and things pick up again in September. It just seems more natural that way. I love the rhythm of a busy school year fall, winter, and spring, contrasted with a lazy summer.
I love your Top Seven List on your webpage. How did that come to be and can you talk a bit about it, please?
I wrote that pretty quickly on a Sunday night recently as I was thinking about the upcoming holiday season and all the things I wanted our customers to know - and all the things I wanted to make sure I had a handle on. Preparing publicity serves the double purpose of focusing my attention and helping me stay organized. People are pretty annoyed by constant emails from MailChimp in their inboxes, and I don't have time to produce fancy marketing stuff for every little thing, so I decided to take care of a lot of news all at once and just send them this one series of paragraphs, without any photos or color at all. I'm trying to figure out what gets people to open marketing emails and thought a title more catchy than "Latest News" would help.
I always ask about author events! What makes a great one, and are there any mishaps that authors should know about?
We have been lucky to work so closely with the University of Idaho MFA program and English Department who bring in visiting writers (and provide a large audience of up and coming writers who hang on their idols' every word), and some of our local writers have had book launches this year and were happy to let us host their launch parties. Beer and wine and good snacks help make a great event, along with a reliable sound system and. We're becoming famous for our Fender amp; I hope that when we get a real set of speakers that folks won't be too disappointed not to be using the Fender.
Writers who are also funny result in great events. Jess Walter and Steve Almond had 'em rolling in the aisles, of course. But you'd be surprised at who has stand-up comic potential - especially if they write books that are not at all funny. Kim Barnes, for instance, is a hoot. So is Anthony Doerr. And Willis Barnstone, who is elderly now, and probably the most intelligent, learned man I ever met! Alternatively, a writer might not be funny, but if they can read compellingly, the audience will be eating out of their hands. So far we haven't had any big mishaps but I've had a couple of close calls with getting the books on time. That's a bookseller issue and not an author issue. All I ask is that they show up on time, remember their glasses and their marked up reading manuscript, and wait to go to the bar until afterwards. So far, so good.

What three books are you pressing into everyone's hands these days--and why?
Only three??? Well, I'm going to be biased towards our local and regional authors who write world-class literature: Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison. Also Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie. Why? First of all, I've gotten to know these writers just a bit and having the tiniest bit of insight and connection to the author makes selling the book a lot easier. The books sell themselves on their own merits - skillful storytelling, addictive plots, memorable characters, relevant themes, plus a little something magical you can't identify - but for me to be able to add something personal makes all the difference. I really can't stop with three or four: Anything Worth Doing by Jo Deurbrouck is a true Western river-rafting adventure story that people in our neck of the woods are talking about. It is also so exciting to have a new Timothy Egan book out too, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, which is about the photographer Edward Curtis. I've lived out West for more than half of my life, but as someone who grew up in the Midwest, I am still learning about what makes this part of the country and its people so intriguing, and sometimes, so inscrutable. Writers who share my love for the West always help me understand my adopted part of the world a little better.
I think one of the most wonderful things about indie stores is that the sense of community. You get to know your customers and can often anticipate what someone might want to read. Plus, your store becomes a destination. When people ask for recommendations, do you give them what they want all the time, or do you ever stretch the boundaries and suggest something that might broaden their reading horizons?
I find that when people ask seriously for recommendations, they don't know what they want at all, aside from certain qualities, for example, fiction or non-fiction or "not too much violence," so, within those parameters, I always just recommend books that I love or that my staff has loved or that is a classic or solid backlist seller they haven't yet experienced. And they're usually thrilled with what we suggest. You can tell if they don't really want a recommendation because they will keep finding reasons to reject your suggestions. I don't know if what I love will stretch other people's reading horizons - I've had staff with much more adventurous tastes than mine - but I just want them to experience something great. I had a customer recently that I directed to Kurt Vonnegut. So he read his first Kurt Vonnegut and came back in right away looking for more. Kids that haven't yet heard of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons...I get such a kick out of introducing them to an entirely new world. I just got to turn a cozy mystery reader on to Jacqueline Winspear and Laurie King. One of my staff who loves to cook hadn't yet read any M.F.K. Fisher. Anything new to you, that grabs you, is broadening your horizons...that's what I love about this profession. Enlightenment and inspiration happen in our store every single day.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
Aside from the first-year learning curve of owning a bookstore and all that comes with that I tend to be pretty balanced. I've been obsessed for 20 years with France and French food and culture and that does tend to show up in a few areas of the store like cookbooks and travel and mysteries, and the French conversation group that meets in the store once a week. But I'm starting to feel a niggling interest in Scandinavian and Icelandic culture too, so perhaps my France obsession is fading? I'm obsessed with keeping the store clean and organized. I'm obsessed in the very best way with my new favorite mystery series, Maisie Dobbs, and my old favorites, Inspector Guido Brunetti and Bruno, Chief of Police. And, I've been waiting for the new Downtown Abbey series and the new set of Sherlock Holmes (with Benedict Cumberbatch) from the BBC for what seems like forever. And I've been dreaming about building a house off the grid lately, but I need to keep from obsessing about that too much, until the five years of work we still have to do on our existing house is done.

We will gladly mail books to customers anywhere in the world and we would love to be a destination book store so please consider a visit and we love it when people from big cities come into the store and tell us that BookPeople is the best book store they have every been in.

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