Seattle, Independents, and Amazon

Interesting article today in the NYT about bookstores vs. Amazon in Seattle — though maybe vs. is the wrong word, since the article’s slant is more about how the two are coming into an uneasy co-existence.

elliottbayThe article pretty firmly triangulates my working life. I worked in independent bookstores, both in California and here in Seattle, for six years before taking a job at Amazon, where I worked for a whole slew of years until I left last July to take some time off and pursue writing. I can confirm, for myself and plenty of Amazon folks I know, that we do indeed shop regularly at local bookstores. I can also confirm that the members of Amazon teams that focus on books (as opposed to diapers, pliers, mascara, etc.) are avid and engaged readers.

Certainly I’ll be shopping at Phinney Books, which, as featured in the article, is my buddy Tom Nissley’s new bookstore, opening in May in Seattle’s Greenwood/Phinney Ridge neighborhood.

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Nissley’s Book of Days

9780393239621_198On Monday night my buddy Tom Nissley, who’s been travelling the US to promote his book A Reader’s Book of Days, hosted a round of “Literary Jeopardy” in NYC. He did a little of this at his launch party at The Elliott Bay Book Co. here in Seattle, where I won a copy of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay collection Pulphead (which I haven’t had a chance to dip into yet).

There’s a great write-up of Monday’s event on The New Yorker’s books blog — I wish I could’ve been there for the “Wolf Wolfe Wolff Woolf” shenanigans. And the book is great, by the way: packed with both factual and fictional minutiae for every day of the year, it’s poignant, funny, and surprising. April 19, for example, which is the date of birth for one of my favorite writers, Richard Hughes (A High Wind in Jamaica) and date of death for both Lord Byron and one of my favorite all-round folks of all time, Charles Darwin, starts off with the following two entries:

1854 Henry David Thoreau declined a neighbor’s offer of a two-headed calf: “I am not interested in mere phenomena.” [Note: Joanna Neborsky’s illustration of the calf in question is pretty adorable.]

1862 Lionel Tennyson, age eight, explained to a visitor to the household, Lewis Carroll, the conditions under which he would show Carroll some poems he had written: Carroll must play chess with him, and must allow Lionel to give him “one blow on the head with a mallet.”

Just the index alone is worth the price — the entry for “animals,” for example, works its way from badgers to yeti.

Also check out Tom’s blog The Ephemeral Firmament; the guy can find the heartbreaking undercurrents in just about anything.