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Bookshop Santa Cruz Staff Profile: Rico Lange

Staff Profile: Rico Lange

A black and white photo of a man with short hair standing in front of a bookshelf, smiling at the camera.I grew up in a household—well, many households; we moved 18 times when I was a kid—with very few books. So few they all fit on one shelf. Actually, part of a shelf. My mother owned two pop psychology books—I’m Okay, You’re Okay by Thomas A. Harris, MD, and The Hite Report by Shere Hite—and my stepfather owned three faux-leather-bound titles from the Time-Life series called The Old West. If I remember correctly, he had The Pioneers, The Outlaws, and The Indians. That’s a complete inventory of our library. And it was all for show. Nobody actually read anything. Me included.

The turning point came for me during spring break of my sophomore year in college. I was a politics major vaguely planning to go to law school. To pay my way through UCSC, I was working construction. Unlike my housemates, I couldn’t take off for the week to visit family or party in Mexico. One night, all alone in our apartment with no television, I pulled my housemate’s copy of The Catcher in the Rye from its shelf in the living room and started reading. By the end of the week I’d finished not only that book but A Farewell to Arms and Slaughterhouse-Five. The next year I took a class on Faulkner, which turned the reading ember into a bonfire. I switched my major to literature. Thoughts of law school went out the window. After graduation I was still working construction and came home one night exhausted and sunburned. Standing at the bathroom sink, my hair flecked with sawdust, I made one of the biggest (and best) decisions of my life: “I’m going to work in a bookstore.”

I started at Capitola Book Café in 1991. My bosses there—Gwen Marcum, Marcia Rider, Judy Stenovich, and the late Kathy Kitsuse, collectively and fondly referred to as “The Ladies”—were all wives and mothers, and they treated me (and the rest of the staff) like family. I was a raggedy, half-formed person in need of reading guidance and they started handing me books. They turned me onto McCarthy, Gordimer, Wolff, Didion, Murakami, Coetzee, and Marquez, among many others. Eventually they even paid me to run a book discussion group in the store. Writers and book people, I came to realize, were my kind of people.

I’m not someone who has a single favorite author, but one writer The Ladies put into my hands whom I hold in particularly high esteem is Alice Munro. Her short stories hew pretty closely to the different stations of her life: growing up in small-town Canada; being a young wife and mother; finding one’s true self; dealing with infidelity, divorce, resentful children, aging parents, and other domestic conflicts. Through some mystifying alchemy I don’t think anyone fully understands, she’s transmuted her fairly standard autobiography into the highest art. Though she and I don’t have that much in common personally—I’ve never been a wife or a parent, for example, and I’ve spent a total of 2 hours in Canada—I turn to her work again and again for entertainment, inspiration, and counsel. In 2014, after Capitola Book Café fell victim to Amazon and other economic forces and closed for good, I started at Bookshop. Though I no longer work for The Ladies, I’m still trying to continue their legacy by helping people find the books they don’t simply want but need. From firsthand experience, I know the right books can save your life.

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Richard “Rico” Lange is a floor supervisor and the store handyman.

This staff profile was featured in our 2019 Winter Newsletter.

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