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May 2024

Picture of CaseyDear Readers,

When I took over the store from my father almost 20 years ago, one of the lessons he instilled in me was to appreciate the book business because it was composed of some of the best people you could choose to spend your days with. Boy was he right. Every day, I see the dedication and cooperation of the people trying to make a go in this business, a major factor in how independent bookstores have survived.  

One of the key people to do this is Paul Yamazaki, the Principal Book Buyer for over 50 years at the esteemed City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco. His new book, Reading the Room explores his career and approach to books, authors, diversity, and history. Like sitting with a cherished friend whose stories and opinions serve as a guiding light in your life, Paul's stories not only inform our approach to bookselling but also to life.

One of my favorite lines is when he says that we should think of bookstores as “toolboxes to recover joy" as joy is "the enhancement of happiness through knowledge." As our books "are in conversation on our bookshelves," he helps us understand how they represent the full human condition. He highlights the curiosity, discovery, and mission that independent bookstores bring to their communities and how books should be challenging, diverse, and disorienting. When this happens, Paul explains, it is magic.

It is this approach that led the National Book Foundation to give Paul the 2023 Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. On a personal level, besides being in awe of standing next to such a giant in letters, I am grateful to Paul for being an ambassador to new voices, a champion of frontline booksellers, and an advocate for the role of bookstores in our communities.

Reading the RoomFrom Reading the Room by Paul Yamazaki:

"We as booksellers have more of an opportunity to spread that joy through the books we present and those we find meaningful. Books are still, in my mind, one of the great technologies. For the transference of imagination, there is nothing better, to my mind. For the broad expanse of sharing and the interplay of imagination, it's hard for me to think of what could be better. The length and breadth of the possibilities of joy are extended by the more we know and the more able we are to make our own informed decisions. Books become the fulcrum of conversation. The books by themselves could get you there as an individual but, for most of us, the dialogue back and forth increases the possibility of joy. I think that's the point of being a bookseller and the point of reading- and, really, the point of life."

Happy Reading,

Casey Coonerty Protti
Bookshop Santa Cruz

Three books I recently enjoyed:

Cemetery of Untold Stories by Julia Alvarez
Alma is a writer trying to make sense of all the stories that swirl in her head. When she inherits land in the Dominican Republic, she creates a cemetery to bury untold stories. Alvarez's novel, fresh with imagination, beautiful storytelling, and heart, gives voice to Alma and her untold stories and uses magical realism and folklore to create conversations about family legacy, sisterhood, class, and love
Swimming in Paris by Colombe Schneck
An intimate and emotional novel about three moments in one woman's life- coming of age as a teen, the impact of friendships on how we perceive life, and a late-in-life love affair. In each, Schneck cuts to the bone what it means to be a woman, to have agency over our bodies, and to balance societal and family expectations with our desires. The first chapter on her teen pregnancy and abortion is one of the most moving accounts I've ever read about the journey women face in understanding the autonomy of our bodies. Exquisitely honest and beautifully rendered, this novel imbues quiet power and genuine fragility.
Real Americans by Rachel Khong
Three generations of one Chinese American family confront the hidden legacies that propelled their family story from the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Y2K New York City, and beyond. In the vein of Hello Beautiful, Pachinko, or The Dutch House, Khong creates an immersive epic that beautifully brings insight and heart to one family's struggle with identity and belonging, race and class, secrets, and forgiveness. It's only spring but I already know this book will be on my Best of the Year list come December.