Skylight Books is truly one of the great indies. Smack in the heart of L.A., it prides itself on doing really well with literary fiction (sigh of joy, here). Thank you to the very wonderful Steven Salardino for letting me pester him with questions. I'm honored.
You've been open since 1996, and you're smack in the middle of L.A. culture! I'm curious if you think that people in different areas have different reading sensibilities?
I know that one of the reasons Skylight Books survives in changing times (economic instability, electronic reading devices, internet-based monoculture mega-stores) is that we are located in an area where people care about books, literacy, and literature. And not just on a romantic level but on a political level as well. The people that shop here really want bookstores to exist and like supporting a place where a community can gather around the ideas of expression, creativity, and knowledge. Our base clientele does have particular tastes which, hopefully, we are in tune with and can also help shape. We have done very well with literary fiction and I am proud and happy that our staff favorites (see below) often become our bestsellers.
What three books are you pressing into everyone's hands these days?
I have many favorite titles I always recommend when asked: the works of Jeanette Winterson, Scott Bradfield, Dodie Bellamy, Matthew McIntosh, John Fante, Lorrie Moore, Tom Drury, Dennis Cooper, James M. Cain, and Richard Yates make wonderful jumping-off places.
One of the most recent of my favorite titles is A.M. Homes new novel May We Be Forgiven - a modern family disaster handled just right with Homes’ stupendous sentences. At first so much is falling apart in the life of the main character that one could compare it to a classic 1970’s disaster drama like The Towering Inferno or those Airport movies. But Homes brings it around in such a surprising and interesting way that at the end we feel hopeful and satisfied.
Other recent titles I love to talk about are Building Stories by Chris Ware and Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan.
Authors are so indebted to the indies and I'm going to speak for them by asking you, what can we do to make our events most exciting, more interesting, more fun?
After 16 years of hosting events I think I have an idea of what makes a good author event. The first important thing is to be nice, grateful, and humble to your booksellers at the event. These are the people that will talk about you, talk about your book and your event, and hopefully sell your book after your 45 minutes in the store. It really pays off in dividends to treat them well. I guarantee they will not care about you or your books if you do not treat them with respect.
I think the attention spans of today’s audiences are short when it comes to listening to an extended piece of writing. So pick parts to read that are not over 15-20 minutes. Two 8-10 minutes pieces or five 3-minute poems…those will work too. My suggestion is to read for 20 minutes or less, and then talk about your writing or your thoughts through a Q&A period. After that comes the book signing portion, and again the main thing you want to do here is be respectful to your audience by giving each person a little time but not enough to alienate the others in line.
Food and wine is always good! As a store we can not provide this but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own! You don’t have to make it a giant production, just something to help break the ice and give the evening a joyous atmosphere.
What's obsessing you now and why?
I like to ask the authors that come here that same question! I am always interested in what writers I enjoy and respect are getting into. Lately I have been getting back into the short story form. I used to read a lot of short stories but dropped into novels (and endless internet search chains) until a few months back when I discovered a few authors I had not read before, namely John Collier and Andre Dubus. This led me back to rereading some of my other favorite short story writers and starting a blog: www.palmtreex3.com. There you will find some short story authors that I think are masters of the genre.
I also have been excited by: wheat-free toaster waffles with almond butter, trying to turn my brown thumb into a green one, walking through small towns, being inspired by photos on Instagram, and new, seemingly mundane experiences that are not mundane at all.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
“Can you name a contemporary author that we will be studying and talking about long after they have departed this life?”
My answer would be David Mitchell. The devotion his fans have to his book Cloud Atlas is unprecedented in my experience as a bookseller. I have seen strong enthusiasm for the works of contemporary literary heroes like David Foster Wallace, Haruki Murakami, Jeanette Winterson, Joan Didion - or even J.K. Rowling and David Sedaris – and all of it deserved. But the shine in the eyes of David Mitchell devotees coupled with his personal demeanor makes me put my money on him as someone that will appear in many graduate theses. He is all at once smart, humble, authoritative, inquisitive, funny, interesting, and genuine. You know when people ask: "What three authors from history would you like to have dinner with?" - David Mitchell will be a popular answer for a long time.