As co-owner of the Bay Area’s Books Inc. with husband Michael, Margie Scott Tucker has opened a bookstore in an airport, gotten to know local authors, and participates in a scholarship program. Here, she shares her many book recommendations and talks about the book that gave her an appetite for mystery novels.
What makes a great bookstore?
There are so many great bookstores around the world to consider before one can answer this question, but I think the one thing that makes a bookstore great is that they reflect their community, but they always add their own little magic. So, people can walk in, instantly feel comfortable, but as they walk the aisles, something new, different, and wonderful appears.
What book has made the greatest impact on you?
I don’t think I can pick one book, but there have been books that were significant for the time in my life. Loose Change by Sara Davidson made me pay attention to the times I was witnessing first hand. Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo sent me on a 90-mile river trip on the Salmon River. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern gave me a new world to live in when I needed one. About 25 Agatha Christie’s that I read by the light from an oil lamp got me through a long, hard winter when I lost power a lot. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel completely charmed me and probably is responsible for making me a fairly good cook.
What book do you recommend most and why?
I think it might be Three Junes by Julia Glass, particularly for a book club. The prose, the structure, the characters are infinitely layered and every conversation and point of view can offer something new to consider. I’ve been involved in three different book group discussions of this book and the conversation can go on for hours.
What’s the last great book you read?
Oh, that’s so hard to answer. I just finished advance copies of The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess and Trust Exercise by Susan Choi; both are really great reads. I also just re-read Sourdough by Robin Sloan for my book club and it is so clever and funny. And the new Louise Penny, Kingdom of the Blind, is wonderful and the audio of Becoming by Michelle Obama is stunning.
Do you have a favorite genre?
Well, I do love a good mystery and I suppose mystery is the genre that made me a reader. As a kid of six or seven, I read a children’s abridged version of The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle that led to me being obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, and I was horrified to find out he wasn’t a real person. My father always said I took that harder than finding out there was no Santa.
What’s the most unique or memorable thing that’s happened at the bookstore?
I think dramas of all kinds happen in our stores every day–some great, wonderful things and some not so great. However, my experiences are very much the behind-the-scenes kind, because my job really doesn’t put me on the sales floor. I do vividly remember a night in the mid-1990’s, when we were getting ready to open the SFO [San Francisco International Airport] store. Michael and I were in the store around 2:00 am and I was schlepping buckets of water back and forth from the bathroom at the United Terminal to wash down the shelves before the books arrived in the morning. Not something I ever expected to be doing in an airport—or a bookstore for that matter—and I still think about it every time I’m in that terminal.
What have been the biggest book trends at your bookstore in the past six months?
I think each of our stores is so different that there might be a different answer for each one of them. Certainly, the expected big books of the season have had an impact. It’s clear that many people are thinking about where they shop and are trying to support local, independent businesses. Our website business has increased significantly this year, particularly people shopping online to pick up in our stores. There’s also some movement in digital audiobooks, not a lot, but noticeable.
Who are some of the local authors you’ve gotten to know or recommend?
The Bay Area is so author-rich and our stores are so fortunate to have locals—including the frequent travelers. Po Bronson once told me he traveled so much he thought of our airport store as his neighborhood bookstore. I’ve been involved with 826 Valencia’s Scholarship program for several years and have gotten to know Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida a bit. I have immense respect for what they have done there and their work is always amazing. Christopher Moore has been a Books Inc. favorite for so many years and he lives in the area now. Anytime he comes by to sign books it is the most fun, laughter-filled day we have. Meg Waite Clayton is in my book club, so I’ve been lucky to get to know her, and I always love her work. I actually have never met Andy Weir in person, but I feel like I know him. He’s often in our Mountain View store and one weekend, we got a call that the faucet was broken in their bathroom, so we headed off to buy a new faucet for the store. On the way, we got the call from the store manager saying they didn’t need it anymore—Andy Weir dropped by and fixed the faucet, so all was fine. How can you not love that?
What’s the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
I don’t know that it’s a surprise, but I find that we are so fortunate to be in an industry with a product that can enlighten and move the psyche the way reading can. I am always so delighted when people I meet in other parts of my life tell me stories about finding the most perfect book in one of our stores.
What’s your all-time favorite bookstore? What makes it so special?
Well, I do love all of our stores and I’m really fond of Bookshop Santa Cruz, though I don’t get there a lot. Skylight Books is also amazing! However, there was a little bookstore in the Campo di Fiori in Rome 20+ years ago called Libreria Fahrenheit 451. A tiny, tiny store, maybe 8 feet wide and 20 feet long, with an old English Sheepdog that slept just outside the front door most of the day. Almost everything was in Italian, but I searched the shelves and finally found one little book of poetry in English, and who was it published by? City Lights in San Francisco!