Cue the authoritative TV voiceover: "Previously on . . ."
A few weeks ago, we began a conversation about politics and independent bookstores (for the summer reruns, go here, here and here). It was sparked by a bookseller's reaction to the announcement that Countdown to President Obama Hope Clocks, a sequel of sorts to the George Bush Countdown Clocks, were being sold by Bookshop Santa Cruz.
The response from Diane Van Tassell of Bay Books generated a great discussion, and this week we wrap things up by looking at the last of three questions I originally posed to Diane and Bookshop Santa Cruz's Casey Coonerty Protti:
What do you think your customers expect from you? Do you worry that some will feel excluded?
"I believe that customers expect me to have a wide range of books on various topics without any personal biases of the book buyer," Diane concludes. "Often people will want to read about different points of view and differing philosophies than their own. It would be foolish of the bookstore to select only books that would appeal to only one segment of the population and exclude others.
"To sum up: A bookstore should be a place that welcomes every person who walks in the door. No one should feel unwelcome because of their beliefs. Whether liberal or conservative, gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, every person should be able to find books that are appealing to them. A particular agenda of the bookstore or book buyer should never be evident to the customers."
According to Casey, "Our customers expect us to raise political issues and to be involved in community issues. We are in a unique position in that my father, Neal Coonerty, now serves as Santa Cruz County Supervisor and my brother, Ryan Coonerty, who worked at the store until this year, is currently serving as Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz. The bookstore is associated with politics and for good reason. This involvement in larger political stands has allowed us to play important roles in local political issues like big box retailing and think local campaigns. It has only strengthened our voice.
"We have heard from some customers that when we take a side, we are not representing them or that it is too much 'in their face'--however, for the entire time we have sold over 64,000 Bush Countdown Clocks, we have only received a handful of negative reactions so we feel as though we have served our community well. As a retailer, creating one item that brings in over $500,000 in sales is smart business as well as smart politics."
In response to this question, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo of McNally Jackson Books, New York, N.Y., cites one of her "bookselling mentors"--Jill Dunbar, founder of Greenwich Village's Three Lives & Co.--who "said something that has always comforted and inspired me. When someone hated a book that she loved or vice versa, she'd respond 'Well, that's why there are so many books in the world: so not everyone has to like the same ones.' That gets a little heavier when political and ethical issues are the content of those books, but from a retail perspective, I think the concept is solid."
Russ Lawrence, owner of Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton Mont., observes that his shop's staff "are well-known as liberals, and in fact one of our conservative customers refers to us as 'the flamers.' But he comes back in, because as a place of business we make him feel welcome. We also bill ourselves, not jokingly at all, as 'Hamilton's non-judgmental bookstore.' We have conservatives buying liberal books, and the converse as well--probably under the 'know your enemies' rubric. We don't comment, we don't judge--people have their own reasons for buying what they buy, and that extends to literary fluff, health books, and other sensitive areas--sometimes including 'humor!' To exclude conservative books is to exclude liberal customers who are curious or otherwise motivated to read such viewpoints, and vice versa."
Jessica sums it all up nicely: "Bookselling at its best is a mind-opening experience. When someone asks for and buys an Ann Coulter book, we can look at them and see that they're as human as we are, and looking for answers to the world's troubles just as we are. My dream is to someday host a 'salon' in my store, with discussion leaders and supporting books from both sides, and make a space for customers to talk about the issues that divide and unite us. Maybe we'll sell some books while we're at it. Now that would be the best kind of political bookstore."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)