June 22, 2014
The bookstore Book Soup and yours truly have a long history together. Both as a customer and as an employee. My first ten years there were off and on, and I worked there full-time from 1997 to 2012. So altogether around 25 years, I have been associated with the store. Mostly as a bookseller and then from 2009 to 2012, as its book buyer. But even as a buyer I spent a lot of time on the floor, monitoring sales as well as chatting with the customers and the staff.
My first time in Book Soup was when they were located up the street from where they are currently. The space was cramped, small, and cozy. One doesn’t go to Book Soup for space, you go there to be surrounded by books, and if you get hit in the head with a book, better yet! And that is precisely what happened to me in the art section, when I reached out towards the top shelf for a book on the British artist duo, Gilbert and George, that entire shelf fell on me. I remember the employee there was shocked when it happened. I said I was fine, and was slightly embarrassed what just took place. Although I was in a mild form of shock, I pretended everything was OK, and I even purchased the Gilbert and George book, just to save myself from further embarrassment by destroying their art section.
Through a recommendation from Michael Silverblatt, I finally got a job at the store, after working some years at a record store. I decided to make a huge jump from vinyl to the printed page, and doing so, I never looked back. In fact, there is not that much of a huge difference between music and reading. It always is and always will be an intense relationship between the listener/reader and the world. The man who hired me, Glenn Goldman, was the founder and owner of Book Soup. I immediately liked him, but was never sure if he liked me. He was remote, slightly eccentric, and sometimes difficult to connect with, but that was also the reason why I liked him. He struck me as the perfect person for the world of book selling. In many ways, it has nothing to do with the ‘real’ life that is outside the store. Yet it consistently reflects on that landscape outside the door of the business. In many ways, I felt like an outsider, but I was perfectly at home at Book Soup, because I felt it was the home of those who find a lifestyle outside the work, or place as difficult.
The clientele of the store is amazing, and truly famous and wonderful. To be honest, I have never met a customer at the store who I disliked. If they are willing to go in and share the adventure, I’m a fan or friend of that person for life. Including the legendary, the wealthy, the border-line insane, and some were convicted criminals - all wonderful people. Time-to-tiime one is approached by the gossip media to locate information regarding what a specific customer is reading or not reading, and I just basically want to shoot the reporter or editor, because one, it is none of their business, and two, it is a sin to me to rat on my customers. It is a bond that I hold up to this day. Doctor-client, lawyer-client, priest-client, and bookseller-client. Anyone who would distract that relationship was a person I would want to torture and burn for in perpetuity.
What I admired most about Glenn was his vision for the store. I think basically he just wanted a business that expressed the good life, and all the troubles that goes with such a world. It takes a certain amount of courage to open up a bookstore, but he either by design or luck, found a great location to open up a store that served not only the entertainment world, but also the whole world as well. Our customer base was everywhere from New York City to London, to various locations in Asia. Most were prominent people in their fields of interest and occupation, and it was truly an honor to serve their needs. Also the beauty of the store was that it never dumb-down its inventory. The trivial books were sold, but so were titles and authors who had a strong effect on the literary landscape. It was common knowledge that if Book Soup didn’t have that title, then it didn’t exist anymore. Glenn was a remarkable buyer for his store, and just working with him, I learned a lot regarding the subject matter of taste and how to present that ‘taste’ to our customer. He had personal reading taste, but he also listened to his customers, and with the advice of various publisher’s sales people he built the perfect book store.
The shock of hearing about his cancer, was horrifying on a lot of levels. One, I couldn’t imagine him being ill, and two, what will happen to Book Soup, a home for me for many years? When he went to the hospital he requested that I take over his buying duties, and without even thinking about it I told him “of course.” It was one of those moments that happened so fast, and so unexpectedly that I never really thought about it in great detail, but it was a moment that changed my life.
Using Glenn as a role model, throwing in some of my knowledge in the mix, as well as listening to the staff, customers, and observing the industry, I felt confidante that I was in my true role in life. To curate, to shape the inventory of a store is quite a remarkable adventure - but most of all, I never had someone trust me with such responsibility before. Glenn, although never compliment me verbally, but by him giving me this job, it was probably the most touching thing that happened in my life. Since today (June 22) is Book Soup’s birthday and therefore Glenn Goldman’s birthday as well (at least to me) I honor his memory, and also to the store that brought me a great deal of happiness. Oh and books as well.