Local booksellers weigh in on books, book selling and the ins and outs of the industry
It was books that brought them together. Joe Mancino had been working at Bookshop Santa Cruz for seven years when Kat Bailey, a UC Santa Cruz creative writing and literature graduate, was hired at the bookstore.
“I discovered she was really funny so I said, ‘Hey, you’re really funny’—and then she hit me,” says Mancino, laughing from a stool in the cozy home that the couple maintains together three years later.
“I didn’t know how to respond to that,” says Bailey, also laughing, their black cat Pepe curled on a cushion beside her.
Today, Mancino is the buyer for all the remainders at Bookshop Santa Cruz, and runs the store’s magazine department. Bailey is Bookshop’s used book manager, in addition the host of the store’s book events and a co-manager of the fiction section.
Their home has the feel of a rural enclave amidst the City of Santa Cruz—only 15 minutes from downtown, yet boasting backyard garden beds teeming with winter veggies. Besides Pepe, they share their space with a tiny white mouse they found in Bookshop (presumably someone’s escaped pet, considering its laboratory-mouse coloration and the fact that it came right to them when they tried to capture it amidst the towering book stacks). Their yard bustles with four pet ducks, all named after Beatles songs: A blue swedish named The Walrus, a mallard named Sgt. Peepers, and two buff orpingtons named Jude and Eleanor. Each morning they collect one perfect egg from the sole female in the brood.
When you enter their small home, the couple’s love of books is apparent. A small computer desk is separated from the main living space by shelves filled with books. Tall bookcases add a “curl up and read” feel to the living room and there is a crooked stack of books on either side of the couple’s bed. The shelves are loosely organized by topic, with subjects ranging from books about Latin America to music books, gardening books, cookbooks, fiction, memoir, and one entire case dedicated to nature writing books and Audubon field guides.
Not surprisingly, the couple’s love of literature is not simply a 9-to-5 passion, but something that extends to after-work hours and weekends. In that spirit, they invited Good Times into their home to weigh in on books, book selling, and trends in the industry.
GT: What is your favorite part of your job?
Bailey: Having access to the book world in a way that I never did before. I’ve always been a really big reader, but being behind the scenes I know about many more books than I ever did in my life. And I read a lot more widely now. Also, having access to books before they come out is really interesting—to know what’s forthcoming and what’s trending, that sort of thing. I find that whole world very fascinating
Mancino: I’m someone who’s very eclectic in my interests and talents and so it’s great that whatever I happen to be thinking about, I can check it out. Especially in magazines, every day I see hundreds of the newest things that people are talking about in any particular field. I also like shopping for remainders, finding the treasures amongst everything out there.
GT: Do you often find gems that may have been overlooked by Bestseller lists?
Mancino: That’s something that does happen frequently in Bookshop. People who are really passionate about fiction will find gems, even though they may be sleepers on the New York Times Bestseller list.
Bailey: A lot of times there will be a book that comes out and the staff loves it so we’ll promote it. We love it when people ask us for recommendations. That’s a really important moment, when people trust you to hand them something that’s really good.
GT: Have you noticed there are Santa Cruz trends that differ from national book-selling trends?
Bailey: Santa Cruz loves literary fiction. Chick-lit doesn’t sell very well here, (nor does) more commercial fiction. Our bestseller list compared to a bestseller list anywhere else in the country is a lot more literary. The other thing about Santa Cruz that is interesting is that we sell a ton of science books. That’s our weird niche at Bookshop Santa Cruz—all of our science events are big. I think we have a very literate, well-read and scientific community. That’s really reflected in the kind of books that people buy.
GT: What are some of your favorite books and authors?
Mancino: My latest fascination is with neuroscientists and neurolinguists, like David Eagleman, Sam Harris and George Lakoff. Those guys are heroes. They’re really on the vanguard of redefining what humans are—and the extent to which we are not who we think we are.
Bailey: I’m a big fiction reader. I love Audrey Niffenegger; “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is such as amazing book. I think I’ve read that 20 times and I never get sick of it. It’s like comfort food. It’s what I go to when I need to feel good and warm and just be immersed in something that I love. I love Emma Donoghue, the author of “Room” … and then I love anything that Margaret Atwood writes. Aimee Bender is another big one for me; she wrote “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.” She’s a very quirky writer, but I like that. And then I’ll read anything with ghosts in it—I’m obsessed with ghost stories.
GT: Why are independent bookstores vital to the book industry?
Mancino: It might sound overly dramatic, but I think bookstores are the bastion of civilization. They are a place in the world that’s kind of a sanctuary. And in a world where increasingly everything is treated as a commodity, (independent bookstores) have stood apart from that to some extent. A book is something that includes an experience; it’s not just a thing. Now that’s being threatened of course, and there are a lot of people who are beginning to treat books as a commodity—the biggest problem being Amazon. I think that’s threatening the process by which books come into being. There’s this idea that they can sell them at (a low) price and, because they can, that should be the price.
Bailey: (Amazon) has been really detrimental when you look at the process at which books are made. When you look at pricing, the actual printing process and the materials of making the book don’t represent much of the costs. What you’re really paying for is somebody’s thoughts, talent, creativity, ideas and research. When you devalue books the way that we have been the last 10 or 15 years, I worry that we’re going to end up with a lot less books that are worth reading.
Mancino: I see it as a sustainability issue. Cheap food is great, but if it depletes the soil, there’s something else we have to look at. In the same way, everybody likes cheap books. But if they deplete the process by which they’re created, if they deplete and threaten publishing itself, there’s something to look at. That’s the gorilla in the room for all booksellers.