Wednesday, June 22, 2022
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, for around 25 years, I have been associated with the store. Mainly as a bookseller, 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 and 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 okay and slightly embarrassed about what happened. Although I was in a mild shock, I pretended everything was OK, and I even purchased the Gilbert and George book 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 massive jump from vinyl to the printed page, so I never looked back. There is not that much of a vast difference between music and reading. It 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 wanted me. He was remote, slightly eccentric, and sometimes difficult to connect with, which was also why I liked him. He struck me as the perfect person for the world of bookselling. In many ways, it has nothing to do with real-life 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 thought it was the home of those who find a lifestyle outside the work or place difficult.
The clientele of the store is amazing and genuinely famous and fabulous. To be honest, I have never met a customer at the store who I disliked. Suppose they are willing to go in and share the adventure. In that case, I’m a fan or friend of that person for life, including the legendary, the wealthy, the borderline insane, and some convicted criminals - all wonderful people. The gossip media approach time-to-time to locate information regarding what a specific customer is reading or not reading. I want to shoot the reporter or editor because it is none of their business. Two, it is a sin for 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 he just wanted a business that expressed the remarkable life and all the troubles that go with such a world. It takes a certain amount of courage to open up a bookstore, but he, 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. 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 an honor to serve their needs. Also, the store's beauty was that it never dumb-down its inventory. The trivial books were sold, but so were titles and authors who strongly affected the literary landscape. It was common knowledge that if Book Soup didn’t have that title, it wouldn’t exist anymore. Glenn was a remarkable buyer for his store, and just working with him, I learned a lot about taste and how to present that ‘taste’ to our customers. He had a personal reading taste, but he also listened to his customers, and with the advice of various publishers’ salespeople, 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 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, listening to the staff and customers, and observing the industry, I felt confident that I was in my proper role in life. To curate to shape a store's inventory is quite a remarkable adventure - but most of all, I had never had someone trust me with such responsibility before. Glenn, although he never complimented me verbally 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 Glenn Goldman’s birthday (at least to me), I honor his memory and the store that brought me a great deal of happiness. Oh, and books as well.