She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore and Other Top Book Picks From Indie Booksellers

Nothing beats the inside line from a bookseller–how else can you get the scoop on the best books hitting shelves soon, and the old favorites you’d do well to discover or revisit?

By Alexis Neuville

In this series, learn directly from booksellers themselves what reads they’re devouring, titles to watch out for, and what makes their store a cornerstone of their town. In this installment, Book Passage’s Luisa Smith reveals how the Corte Madera, CA, store runs 900 events per year, and how the store’s Science and Nature section holds the best surprises.

How did you get into working at Book Passage?
“I had just graduated from college and was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I grew up surrounded by books and authors since my father is a writer, so getting a job in my favorite local bookstore seemed like the natural thing to do while I figured things out. I would never have guessed how easily I fell in love with being a bookseller. That was 24 years ago, and every day at work, I know how lucky I was to have stumbled into my dream job so easily.”

How does your bookstore compare to others? What’s its character?
“We have always taken pride in being an extremely active bookstore. Book Passage hosts over 900 events a year. We have a variety of classes available, from our writing seminars to language classes. Perhaps the highlights of the year are our three writers’ conferences. All of this makes Book Passage a center of events in our community. It is wonderful to see customers come for coffee with their friends in the morning, shop for their kids in the afternoon, then return to see their favorite author speak in the evening.”

Which book do you recommend most, and why?
“One of the books I have the most fun recommending is THE LEOPARD by  Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Our customers love to travel, and this book is perfect for anyone looking to be swept away to a foreign land. Late 19th century Italy comes to life; decadent, passionate, dark, and completely unforgettable.” 

What is your favorite section/shelf of your store, and why?
“I am a huge fan of mystery fiction, so you would think that that would be my favorite section in the store. However, I would have to say the Science and Nature section is often my 

favorite place to discover books–you can find books answering questions you hadn’t even begun to ponder, often with as much suspense as any great mystery. I love this section because it surprises me the most.”

What is the most unique/memorable/crazy thing that has happened while you were working at the store?
“One of the most memorable days I have ever had as a bookseller was the day after the [2016 presidential] election. I thought the store would be quiet. As the day progressed more and more customers kept coming in looking for a place to be with people and process what had happened. Some customers just needed to talk, but many of them started seeking out diverse books. Books that reflected all the corners of this world. It was as if buying these books, they were standing with these stories/authors, a small first step in what they knew would be a longer fight. I couldn’t imagine anything would make me feel better that day, but being with these people, talking about these books really helped.”

What’s the biggest trend or pattern you’ve noticed in past 3-6 months, in terms of what folks are coming in to the store and requesting or seeking recommendations on?
“Customers are seeking out books with women as the hero of the story. Not only as nurturers but as leaders and even avengers. It has been a refreshing change.”

What’s the biggest surprise about working at a bookstore, and why?
“The biggest surprise is that it isn’t the books that makes this such a wonderful job, it is the people. There is absolutely nothing better than a community of book people. Booksellers, publishers, authors, and customers all play a big role in that.”  

What makes a great bookstore?
“There are so many great independent bookstores, and each one is unique. The only consistent thing between them is that they are filled with great booksellers, people who genuinely love talking about books. A great bookseller can make any assortment of books feel like the finest selection in the country.”

Physical or ebook?
“Physical books make your brain wake up and pay attention to the act of reading in a way ebooks never can.”

Last great book you’ve read?
“Powerful and poetic, SHE WOULD BE KING harnesses the pain and hope that led to the creation of Liberia. Wayetu Moore’s debut novel beautifully illustrates the conflicted desires of human nature and our innate drive to fight for a better future.”

Favorite thing in or about your town?
“I love how many authors, artists, and musicians live in the Bay Area and are customers in our stores. They push us to keep looking at what we do in fresh ways.”

Favorite library?
“Mill Valley Public Library. It is absolutely beautiful and peaceful, nestled under the redwood trees in the shadow of Mt. Tam.”

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