Mark Lamframboise, Head Buyer at Politics and Prose, spends plenty of time selling books to customers at the well-known Washington D.C. bookstore first established in 1984. He’s got great book recommendations, and more than one story about out-of-the-ordinary guests and events.
What makes a great bookstore?
A lot of things, of course: ambience, curation, customer service, and all the myriad details that have to come together every day. Ultimately, though, it’s people who make a store great—people who create the energy and forge a store’s identity. Well-trained, good-natured staff is important, but regular customers help shape a great bookstore by demanding a level of quality and challenging a store to exceed itself over and over.
What book has made the greatest impact on you?
The Brothers Karamazov, I think. It does so many things at once. It’s a murder mystery, a philosophical investigation, a spiritual awakening, and a dazzling representation of all of the facets that make a person.
What book do you recommend most and why?
It depends who is asking. For younger people, like teenagers, I like to recommend Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. While it is a serious book about a family struggling through the great depression, it’s a really fun read and younger people can identify with the book’s protagonist, Mick Kelly. I also like to recommend All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. She walks a tight wire, balancing humor and sadness, a hard thing to pull off, but when done just right is delightful and compulsively readable.
What’s the last great book you read?
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. My book group at the store wanted to do it while the movie was still around. Besides being an important (and unfortunately, timeless) portrayal of racial injustice, the voice of the story’s occasional narrator, Tish, is brilliant and unforgettable.
What’s your favorite genre?
Literary fiction isn’t really a genre, but that’s my answer anyway.
What’s the most unique or memorable thing that’s happened at the bookstore?
So many things: James McBride, promoting The Good Lord Bird, brought his R&B band and gave a concert from our author stage. President Clinton shopping for mysteries. President Obama Christmas shopping with his daughters. Yale’s a cappella singing group the Whiffenpoofs gave a concert in the store a few months ago. So many things...
What have been the biggest book trends at Politics and Prose in the past six months?
Cookbooks featuring Instant Pot and sous vide are on the rise. Serious books about the current administration remain popular, but the audience for humorous books on the same subject has mostly disappeared.
Who are some of the local authors you’ve gotten to know or recommend?
A lot of authors shop here. To name a few would alienate a bunch. P&P’s owners are authors. You can’t spit in Washington without hitting an author.
What’s the biggest surprise about working at a bookstore?
For the uninitiated, the biggest surprise is that it’s hard work. Booksellers don’t lean on the counter, reading books like they’re sometimes portrayed as in movies. They unload trucks, carry boxes, shelve innumerable books, and many other things.
What is your all-time favorite bookstore? What makes it so special?
The poetry room at City Lights in San Francisco is a holy place. Prairie Lights in Iowa City is a cultural gem shining in farm country. Shakespeare and Company in Paris is rightly legendary. You didn’t say I couldn’t name our own store—it’s right up there.