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A Rant about The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

August 30th, 2012  |  by  |  published in Bookselling

Wendy Welch, the owner of The Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, is looking for someone to run her shop for two months while she embarks on a book tour to promote her forthcoming book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Applications are due September 1.

As gigs go, this one is not especially attractive. As Ms. Welch told Shelf Awareness: "Our shop is in a small rural community of 5,400 and it doesn't do
enough trade to hire someone in at a living wage. Plus we have two dogs
and three cats on staff. So what we're offering is complete room and
board for a person or couple (from laundry soap to the occasional pizza
delivery) in return for him/her/them watching the shop for October and
November, when most of the 'road trip' activities for the book take
place."

So you get to work five days a week and take care of an incontient, senile cat, in exchange for a box of Tide and pie now and again from Pizza King. Awesome!

But it could be useful experience–in how NOT to run a bookstore.

By Welch's own account (I read an advance copy of the book, to be published on October 2), she is a lousy bookseller. The job, after all, is to SELL books. If after five years, you don't sell enough books to pay yourself–let alone an employee–and you have to get a teaching job for the benefits (as Ms. Welch did), you aren't a bookseller, you are a hobbyist.

As hobbies go, entertaining neighbors as Ms. Welch and her husband do, in a book-lined room of their house, is a pretty good one. And if Ms. Welch had decided to leave it at that, more power to her. But she is about to go on the road promoting a book extolling the wonders of her late-in-life career as a bookseller, and she presumes to speak for all of us in offering her opinions.

This post, for what it's worth, is a rebuttal of those ideas. I left the book on the plane, so I can't quote from it (nor should I, as
it has yet to be published), so the quotations are from the Tales of the
Lonesome Pine store blog, which is pretty much like the book.

Ms. Welch's basic idea is that bookstores are idyllic community resources free from the taint of lucre. "What WE booksellers do is important…WE represent an open
market of free ideas, with value tied to meaning more than money," she writes (emphasis added, to show that she pretends to talk for all of us). In another post she says, presumably implying vows of poverty and years of penance done at the store, "Bookslinging is a hard way of life, but boy it’s a good one….WE’re like nuns and monks…"

I reject the notion that going into bookselling should be like taking a vow of poverty.

Consider the bigger picture, using Ms. Welch's forthcoming book as an example.

In the book, she mentions (brags?) that she sold the rights for the book for more than she expected. So she got paid to write the book and it will sell for $24.99 per copy. That's not just love, is it?

Her agent took 15%. Again, money, not (just) love.

The editor who bought the book gets a paycheck, health benefits, paid vacation, and a retirement contribution, as does the publicist, marketing manager, etc. They aren't working for love.

Nor is company that will print the book, nor are the employees who work the presses. Nor is the company that manufactured the paper. They all expect to get paid. And rightly so.

So why is it that Ms. Welch believes that the bookseller at the end of the chain between author and reader should work for love and the occasional pizza and not worry about making money? It's an insulting and intellectually bankrupt view. That attitude may well be why she doesn't make money selling books.She blames her store's dismal finances on the small population of her town. But somehow that town supports two pizza parlors, a McDonalds, a Dairy Queen and several dozen other businesses whose owners, I'm pretty sure, are making money, writing paychecks, and paying their mortgage. (Ms. Welch's funding for her bookstore adventures came from a lucky real estate purchase and sale).

Ms. Welch believes that she has created a "community" bookstore and says that mission in life is to be "to be [a] lifelong advocate for books and the people who sell them." As long as they don't expect to buy a house or send their kids to college while selling books.

She believes her unprofitable store is so important to her town that she can't close it for two months while she goes on a book tour. She thinks the town loves her store because so many people tell her how wonderful it is (and most of those comments are transcribed in her book).

But here's a secret: I've been in hundreds of bookstores around the country–some good, a few great, a handful dismal, and too many simply drab. And in every single one people tell the owner, "This is such a wonderful bookstore." It's what people do. They say nice things to shop owners. Shop owners believe them at their peril. If your shop is really valued by the community, those well-wishers take the next step and give you some of their hard-earned money.

Eureka Books in neither the oldest (at 25 years), nor the most financially successful of the seven established bookstores in our rural county of 150,000 people. However, I think we have earned the adjective "community" because the community supports us and we in turn support the community.

Here's how we have invested back into our community, in tangible, measurable ways, over the last quarter century (many of our bookstore colleagues have invested even more):

Salaries paid to employees: Roughly $1.25 million
Books bought from local residents: A million dollars, give or take
Rent and other goods and services bought locally: Close to $2 million
Taxes paid: A million dollars, give or take
Books sold: 750,000 volumes.

I agree with Ms. Welch that bookstores are a "place where people…unite in
believing that commercial viability isn’t the sole criterion for ranking
an idea’s importance." She seems to take it a step further, believing the commercial viability itself is not of any great importance.

I disagree. I want a community with a well-funded police force and good roads. I want the men and women who work here to make a decent wage. I want our local landlord to have enough money to keep up this important historic building. And I want our community to be exposed to the broadest swath of ideas in the world.

None of that is possible if we, as booksellers, don't run our businesses well and profitably. Successful local businesses give communities character. The more successful we are, the more taxes we pay, the more employees we can hire, and the better our community will be. And the more successful we are, the more books pass through our hands into the hands of readers, which in the end is the point. To me, that's what a real community bookstore is all about.

And if I ever have to leave town for two months, I won't ask someone to do my job for free. I'll hire an extra employee, find a pet sitter for the cat and the chickens, and let my replacement buy their own pizza and laundry detergent with the living wage I'll pay them.

–Scott Brown


The Saddest Book in the World?

August 30th, 2012  |  by  |  published in Books

This made me want to cry:

The 1943 “Taps” yearbook. Taps, of course, being the song played at military funerals and the school being the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ Orphan School, whose students were made to parade around with “Orphan School” signs — and you thought your high school years were tough.

Senior Guy Cooper’s fondest memory was his “12 years at S.O.S.”

SOS! Are you kidding me? They called the yearbook Taps and the school abbreviation was SOS?

When the official in charge of the Soldiers’ Orphan School said his goal was to “fit [the students] physically, mentally, and morally for the stern realities of this world,” he wasn’t kidding.

If Lemony Snickett had come up with this for the Baudelaire Orphans in his Series of Unfortunate Events, it would have seemed too satirical.

And to top it off, the bright young seniors in this yearbook, who survived twelve years of SOS, graduated just in time to be drafted for the worst years of WWII.


This Is Conifer Country

June 2nd, 2012  |  by  |  published in Arts Alive, Blog, Events, Humboldt County

Local author Michael Kauffmann will be on hand to sign copies of his new book Conifer Country tonight from 6-9pm during Arts Alive! Conifer Country is a natural history and hiking guide to 35 conifers of the Klamath Mountain region.

The Times-Standard published an article on the book:

When Michael Kauffmann began hiking through Humboldt County’s forests, he noticed something that a more casual hiker might take for granted.

”We have an extraordinary collection of conifers right here,” he said. “In fact, the Klamath mountain region has one of the most diverse assemblages of conifers anywhere on the planet.”

Although redwoods and Douglas firs get most of the attention, he realized that some of the conifers, like the Baker’s cypress and the foxtail pine, are quite rare and obscure.

Kauffmann, who teaches science at Fortuna Union Elementary School and at Humboldt State University, took it upon himself to explore and document the ranges of 35 local species.

Exploring Conifer Country


Ray Raphael to Sign New Book on April 7

March 26th, 2012  |  by  |  published in Arts Alive, Books, Local Authors

Mr. President by Ray RaphaelAs a populist historian of the American Revolution, Redway author Ray Raphael is more likely to write about farmers and innkeepers than presidents. But that’s exactly what makes his new book, Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive, so compelling. To celebrate the release of the book, published by Knopf, the most prestigious American publisher, Raphael will sign copies—and undoubtedly engage in lively discussions ab

out this hot topic—at Eureka Books during Arts Alive on Saturday, April 7 at 6 PM.

The book is in stock now.


Isaac Asimov Catalog Now Online

January 22nd, 2012  |  by  |  published in Book Collecting, Feature 3

Foundation Trilogy

A fine, first edition set of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

We have just published our first catalog of Isaac Asimov first editions. You can download a pdf of the printed catalog now, or view it on the web, with every item illustrated with photos. We will be publishing additional lists of books, as we get them catalogued. Please visit our Asimov homepage for the lastest info, or simply swing by the store.


Ideas for the Humboldt author / history buff on your gift list

December 6th, 2011  |  by  |  published in Books, Humboldt County

In no particular order:

Two Peoples, One Place by historians Freeman House and Ray Raphael provides the best introduction to early Humboldt County history, to about 1885. It's just out in a very nice paperback edition, and we have copies signed by both authors. $19.95

Grave Matters: Excavating California's Buried Past by Tony Platt, an important look at the troubling practice plundering Native American gravesites. A powerful and significant book. A few signed copies remain. $18.95

Plastic oceanPlastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans by Capt. Charles Moore and former Humboldt resident Cassandra Phillips. This is the first-hand story of the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, co-written by a former HSU staffer.\

Redwood sawRedwood Saw by Richard Rothman. Self described as the Franz Kafka of landscape photography, Rothman's portrait of life in Del Norte County, combines images of redwoods, portraits of working class people, and unexpected nudes. The title suggests images of logging, but Redwood Saw refers to the name of a run-down looking shop in a dismal stripmall. This book is not for everyone, but it hangs together as a single artistic statement in a way no other photobook on the North Coast ever has. Limited to just 1500 copies and not available online. $65

Humboldt Heartland by Andy Westfall. Two photobooks about the Redwood Coast could not be more different than Humboldt Heartland and Redwood Saw. Andy Westfall spent years photographing the ranchers of Humboldt County and this book is a stunningly beautiful portrait of rural life in some of the most remote landscapes of California. Andy tells us that fewer than 100 copies remain and it probably will not be reprinted. If the $75 price deters you, I'm reasonably confident that the price will only go up once it's out of print.

FupFup by Jim Dodge. A worldwide phenomenon, that still sells well across the globe after nearly three decades, this charming, magical tale is back in a new edition. Everyone with a love of literature or a sense of humor should have a copy. At $9.95 for a signed copy, you'd be crazy not to pick one up.

The Pacific Crest Trailside Readers (two volumes, available separately, for California and Oregon & Washington). Local authors Rees Hughes and Corey Lee Lewis edited this anthology of writing about the wilderness trail that snakes from Mexico to Canada. Local artist Amy Uyeki provided the woodblock illustrations.

Kinetic Sculpture Racing by Duane Flatmo. The perfect stocking stuffer—the commemorative booklet put out by local artist extraordinaire Duane Flatmo to celebrate his 30th year participating in Humboldt's kookiest event. Signed copies, while they last, are $7.95

Ca-ind-langCalifornia Indian Languages by Victor Golla. It's rare that a scholar's life's work is condensed into a single book, and if you think of it that way, the $90 price tag does not seem that extravagent. In case you might mistake this for a dense linguistics tome, it is actually quite accessible and contains a tremendous amount of local history unavailable in any other book.

Son of Field Notes by Barry Evans. Our local scientist for the masses collects more of his essays on science from the North Coast Journal.


Eureka Books Makes Its Feature Film Debut

November 17th, 2011  |  by  |  published in Bookstore, Feature 2

Behind the Scenes

Local filmmaker Maria Matteoli spent the morning shooting a scene of her feature film, Wine of Summer, at Eureka Books. In the scene filmed here, James (played by Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory), finds the book, Tinto de Verano, that (if I understand it correctly) sets off the action, which soon heads to Spain where most of the movie was shot this October. More info at the NC Journal blog.


Finding the Book, Take 1


The British Invasion, Harry Potter style

October 1st, 2011  |  by  |  published in Book Collecting, Books, New Arrivals

British editions of Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

British editions of Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

We are excited to present our newly acquired collection of British 1st edition Harry Potters in both the children’s and adult designs.  The books are unread and in fine condition.

Do you speak Latin?  We have a 1st edition Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis. Irish?  Come check out Harry Potter agus an Orcholch.  Welsh?  We have Harri Potter a Maen yr Athronydd.

If you speak English we have a lot to choose from.  All seven books plus The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Canadian 1st editions also available.

Accio Potter!


Annual Books Arts Show kicks off at Arts Alive!

September 3rd, 2011  |  by  |  published in Arts Alive, Book Arts, Events

Eureka Books is proud to host the Fourth Annual Book Arts show by the North Redwoods Book Arts Guild (NORBAG). The unique and colorful books will be on display through September 30th.

NORBAG’s annual showcase of local book artists will once again test your notions of what a book is and can be.  Think of how Picasso transformed the still life, and that’s what these artists do with the idea of a book.

For more information check the article by Simona Cariniin this week’s North Coast Journal.


Fortuna and Eel River Valley History Come to Life at Arts Alive!

August 4th, 2011  |  by  |  published in Arts Alive, Books, Humboldt County, Local Authors

Fortuna and the Eel River Valley by Alex Service and Susan O’Hara

Fortuna and the Eel River Valley by Alex Service and Susan O’Hara, published by Arcadia

Alex Service, curator of the Fortuna Depot Museum, has sorted through historical photographs from the museum’s collection, along with photos of the Fortuna Volunteer Fire Department and local residents to tell the story of the community’s history.  Her new book, Fortuna and the Eel River Valley, was co-authored with historian and educator Susan O’Hara and has just been published by Arcadia Publishing.  Service will be at Eureka Books on Saturday, August 6 from 6-9 pm to sign copies of the new book.

“This history of Fortuna and the Eel River Valley really reflects all of the larger forces at work in Humboldt County over the years,” said Eureka Books owner Scott Brown.  “From logging and milling, to our local apple growers and dairies, to the expansion brought on by the railroad in 1914, this book fills a critical gap in our appreciation of our history.” The book also covers Fernbridge, the company town of Scotia, and Newburg, a long-vanished mill town.

Fortuna and the Eel River Valley represents an important contribution to the growing collection of Arcadia titles on local history.  In addition to histories of several towns in Humboldt County, the company has also published books on the history of Humboldt State University and the Sequoia Park Zoo.  “These photographs are hard to come by,” said Brown, “and as anyone who has ever tried to organize family photos knows, it’s not easy to get the right dates, names, and places for each photo.  It’s a tremendous amount of effort, and we’re lucky to have so many local historians working on these books.”


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