STORED KNOWLEDGE Wallace Baine on his new book about Bookshop Santa Cruz and the importance of indie bookstores BY WENDY MAYER-LOCHTEFELD
decades, and though Capitola Book Café (of which I was a former owner) has closed, its unique community and kinship with other local indies has meant its legacy lives on. And one of the most celebrated and innovative independent bookstores— not just locally, but even among booksellers nationally—is Bookshop Santa Cruz, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. More than ever, indie bookstores offer critical alternatives to the troubling “truthiness” and outright fake news that became such a controversial factor of the recent election—which is why Wallace Baine’s new book about Bookshop Santa Cruz, A Light in the Midst of Darkness: The Story of a Bookshop, a Community and True Love, is such an important reminder of why bookstores matter. The book winds the history of Santa Cruz’s modern literary scene around the story of the store, offering a rare account of how our formidable literary landscape evolved. I recently met with Baine at the Abbey and talked about books, readers, writers, and yes, politics—when it comes to independent bookstores, they’re all related.
What role did bookstores play in your childhood?
WALLACE BAINE: I grew up in suburbia in the ’70s, during the rise of mall bookstores. It wasn’t until I went to college and moved out West that I started connecting to bookstores that had an eccentricity to them. They were places where you could spend three hours and nobody bothered you. You could just sit on the floor and absorb. They used to have a certain complacency—we’re here, come on in, hang out, whatever—but these days, bookstores can’t be complacent. They have to hustle. They have to become, as I talk about in the book, not just bookstores, but destinations for people who like books. There’s a distinction there.
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hen a book lover steps into her favorite bookstore, her blood pressure drops and her mind opens. She breathes a sigh of relief, as if she’s managed to reach an old friend. As she spots her favorite books, she scans a sea of colorful possibilities, considering titles she might never have thought to read before. Any one of them could change her life. This is the essential beauty of independent bookstores, their distinct capacity to gather and surprise us, even as we pursue our own interests. They cultivate conversations between strangers about everything from Plato to fruit bats to Captain Underpants, with a little truth and beauty thrown in for good measure. Bookstores rattle the imagination—disconnecting us, however briefly, from our own agendas and nudging us gently toward each other. Santa Cruz has played enthusiastic host to many independent bookstores for decades—Logos and the Literary Guillotine continue to draw loyal readers downtown, as they have for
Why do people develop such passionate relationships to bookstores?
Readers are a particular kind of people. They’re the kind of people who develop attachments. Reading is a solitary activity, but bookstores occupy a central place in book lovers’ lives because of the human connection. When you go into a bookstore and talk to the clerks, they speak your language.