This is a new and occasional series that asks some of our favorite independent booksellers four simple questions. The questions are the same, but the answers (predictably) vary. If you’re interested in the business of bookselling, read on for a quick shot of indy insight — this week, it comes compliments of Megan Wade, from Skylight Books in Los Angeles.
1) Could you tell us something of the history of your bookstore? What’s your role there?
2) What got you into selling books? What keeps you inspired, or I guess what keeps you dejected if that’s how you’re feeling lately?
Skylight opened in 1996, taking over the space where Chatterton’s, a long-time staple of Los Angeles’ literary scene, had closed just a couple years before. We were lucky that the space remained available, and though there are many ways that Skylight differs from Chatterton’s, many of its customers and others in the neighborhood were very supportive. And Skylight is really marked by the neighborhood, which is a place that may contradict the stereotype many have of Los Angeles: our street in Los Feliz is marked by several very walkable blocks of small stores; it’s easily reached by public transit; and the surrounding residential blocks are quite dense and diverse. Our customers are quirky and intelligent, with a wide variety of tastes, and dedication to our more unique sections, including our translated lit, our local zines and art magazines, and our “Alt” section (which includes anarchist theory, drug culture, and conspiracy theory and culture).
I play an interesting role, in that I came in as a bookseller but in the last year also took over much of our bookkeeping. That was a skill I didn’t have at first but wanted to learn, to just get a better overall sense of the business. It means lots more interactions with publishers, mostly their credit departments, and for me, there’s been a little bit of shock to see the out-of-date, bureaucratic processes that make up so much of how publishers and bookstores interact — or for that matter, the modern, globalized bureaucratic processes that seem inherently unfriendly to the idea of small, independent businesses. There’s a disjointed experience for me in that my role as bookseller is focused on personalized, face-to-face interactions and conversation with customers — what I really think bookselling is about — while in my bookkeeping job generally involves being treated in a very impersonal, distant manner by those on the financial end of publishing. Some days it feels a little like all give and no take. There’s a similar experience with the various financial and banking institutions — daily reminders of how our legal and economic structures are not set up to easily benefit small or independently-owned businesses, or their workers.
Full interview at Melville House