Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Spine Nine: Gabriel Books

While in Northampton last month, we stopped at Gabriel Books, where we picked up one book and got a very nice parting gift from Gabriel Books' owner, John Riley.

John was also kind enough to participate in our Spine Nine series of Q&A with bookstore owners, which we post below here.

Thanks, John!

Name: John Riley
Bookstore: Gabriel Books

1. When did you know you wanted to be a bookstore owner? Why? I practically grew up in used-book stores. My mother, Edna Riley,  was a devoted fan of the two used-book stores in Santa Rosa, California, where I grew up. (The Book and Bible, a combination used-book store and religious artifact shop run by a minister; and Cipriano’s, run by a husband and wife). Nearly every Saturday morning we made the rounds. She was usually looking for Sonoma County History books and I was let loose to look at everything else. When I got older I became friends with the owners. When I went to college at UCSB I had a collection of nearly 3,000 books, so what was I to do, but open a used-book store. I opened my first bookstore while still a senior, closing shop or having a friend take over while I went to classes. To save on rent I lived in the back. At night I pulled the curtains over the front windows and had a great private library in which to entertain friends.

2. Do you have a book which is your white whale? If so, would you actually sell it? Probably the first edition of Finnegan’s Wake signed by Joyce, bound in full red Morocco. I spied it once in a shop in Charleston, W.Va. It cost $2,000 and I couldn’t afford it. I’ve never seen one since, but it must cost much more now. I wish I had bought it in installments. I wouldn’t sell it.

3. If you could assume the life of any character from a classic work of fiction, who would it be and why? Don Quixote. He loved books and travel and adventure. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a fan of wind power.

4. What was the experience of selling your first book like? “I might actually be able to pay the rent on this place.”

5. The Kindle/Nook/etc. is ... A pain in the butt to read on, but a brilliant distribution device.

6. Describe your most memorable acquisition experience. I was reading through the want ads after returning from vacation and was plowing through nearly two weeks of papers when I saw a little ad for “Books for sale. Best bid takes them all.” I went with my wife Patty not expecting much, but it was a beautiful library that sat intact from the early 1900s. The grandparents had passed and the grandson was anxious to clean out the house. What we found were amazing complete sets of Thoreau, Emerson, Twain, Hawthorne, Dickens , etc. all bound in full leather,  all signed and containing many holograph manuscript pages, many unpublished. It was like entering King Tut’s tomb. We maxed out all our credit cards and won the bid. We spent months cataloging and relishing this extraordinary find.


James Joyce
7. If classic novelists were like rock stars or athletes, which three posters would be on your walls? Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett (with trading cards of Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert, Jack Kerouac, Woody Allen, Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Poe, Henry Miller, Dino Buzzatti, and Roald Dahl)

8. In 25 years, used-book stores will be ... Specialty shops, much like vinyl record stores are now. In the meantime used-book stores will be the only bookstores around, as new-book stores close or morph into gift shops.

9. If someone wrote a novel about your bookstore, what would it be called? The Perpetual Orgy  (actually the title of a book-length essay by Mario Vargas Llosa about Flaubert and Madame Bovary. Since you can’t copyright titles of books, it could be appropriated in honor of Flaubert.)

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