Sunday, January 22, 2012

Two Bookstores

There are three bookstores that have a larger than usual call on my affections.

The first is greatly responsible for my love of books, a place where I spent much of my childhood, and no longer in existence. It is the bookstore of my ideals and imagination. It resides in my memory, all shiny with summer mornings and magical, white-haired women, and all the bookstores I shall ever meet must go stand beside it to be measured.

The second is Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park. The third is the Booksmith in San Francisco. And while neither of these stores are exactly like the bookstore of my childhood, they are fine and important places in their own right, and I am proud to say that I’ve worked for them both.

(What would my childhood self think of this rather more grown-up me who dances and writes and works for—not one, but two!—great bookstores? I think she would be pleased… and somewhat irritatingly smug.)

Kepler’s is venerable. Established in 1955, its history hovers around it. The Grateful Dead played there! Those wild, scruffy Beat luminaries made appearances. Roy Kepler himself campaigned for peace and paperbacks with a fierceness and irreverence that impresses my bookish soul. This is history! The real stuff. And I have no personal claim on it. I’ve only known Kepler’s since 2008 when I, flush with proud excitement, took up my first bookstore job. But one of the greatest pleasures of that job, aside from being surrounded by books and smart, opinionated people who love them, is meeting people for whom that history is part of their lives and Kepler’s is THE BOOKSTORE.

THE BOOKSTORE is: the first place that comes to mind when you utter those words; the place where you discovered that slightly illicit and possibly age-inappropriate book that blew your thoughts to smithereens; the place where your children run to at a stampede-worthy pace so as not to miss a story being read; the place where you get your newspaper and those magazines you can’t do without; the place where a charming, elderly man will tell you about his days as a pilot and his accidental drink with Hemingway (the Hemingway); the place where they remember your name and do their best to fit you to a book the way you imagine luxury department stores once fit their suits.

In 2010, I started working for the Booksmith. Booksmith is kind of magic. On the walls, there is detailed, whimsical art. The book selection is curated to the vicinity of greatness. The people are (once again) smart, opinionated, and madly in love with books. There are (once again) customers for whom Booksmith is THE BOOKSTORE. From what I understand, this current incarnation is still a youthful one. Christin Evans and Praveen Madan bought the Booksmith in 2007, and are transforming it, with stubborn, mad enthusiasm, into a place that is as relevant, vital, and necessary as all of us who love bookstores wish for them to be (and even the staunchest of us bookstore lovers need that kind of encouragement now and then).

At this moment, my bookstore worlds are colliding.

I am incredibly excited about this. Kepler’s, with its history and its people (both staff and customers) who come in, day after day, to make it the bookstore of their hearts is a solid piece of goodness. But I can think of no better people to make it even more exciting, more fresh and wonderful and worthy of survival in this world of change than Praveen and Christin. On New Year’s Eve, they called a meeting to share some of their ideas with the Kepler’s staff. Dear reader, I haven’t been this excited about bookstores in a very long time. This will be something entirely new.

I want to share this excitement because I know the importance of THE BOOKSTORE. It is, quite obviously, more than just a place where you go, pick up your books, and go home again. If it weren’t, why would we bother going? If bookstores were only rooms where we exchanged money for pages, then we could wave them farewell without a blink. But bookstores are treasure maps and memory palaces. They are playgrounds, social hours, retreats from the world and windows onto it. They are places, ideas, and people. And while “change” is a very sharp thing, liable to cut as well as transform, this particular change is (I can feel it in my bones!) going to be a good one. Get ready. The excitement is rolling in.
Megan Kurashige is a dancer and a writer. She has worked for both Kepler's (since 2008) and the Booksmith (since 2010), and has been, in recent times, the person responsible for this blog. She also edits The Bookflash, a monthly Kepler's e-newsletter, that she urges you to read so that you can enjoy interviews with brilliant authors as well as recommendations from the smart, opinionated, madly book-loving people mentioned above. If you have suggestions, commiserations, diatribes, praise, or questions, you can contact her by email at Megan[at]keplers[dot]com.