When you come into contact with people who truly love what they do, their energy can be contagious. Such is the case with Nick Potter, owner of Nicholas Potter Bookseller, and Noemi de Bodisco and Sierra Logan of Op.Cit. Books.
Both stores have been so carefully edited by their owners that comparing the experience of browsing through their shelves to shopping on Amazon would be the equivalent of comparing a steamy make-out session to a Skype chat.
Inside his shop, Potter sits behind a large wooden desk covered with books and papers. Stacks of books and jazz CDs surround him. The distinctive smell of old paper mixes with the air. Potter leans back in his chair as he discusses his origins as a bookseller.
“When we moved from Chicago to Santa Fe in 1969, Dad set up a shop on East Palace Avenue. I worked in the bookstore with him and found that it was a wonderful environment,” he recalls. “My dad died suddenly—and so, in 1975, I took over the shop,” he continues.
“I am second-generation, but I had an example set [by my father] that seemed to me to be a pretty good one, because I thought: why not have an interesting life?”
At Op.Cit., de Bodisco and Logan stand behind the cash register answering questions from half a dozen customers over the course of 30 minutes.
The shelves, packed to capacity with both used and new books, create an eclectic browsing experience: You can find everything from a hardcover edition of Anaïs Nin’s House of Incest to a cool pocketbook of Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.
“I actually have been a book nut my whole life—from when I was a kid,” de Bodisco says. “I’ve been a collector for years.”
Logan’s love affair with the printed word has also been a lifelong one.
“I’ve been working in bookstores for a little over 10 years now, and I’ve been managing for a good portion of that,” she says. “I was getting pretty burned out on San Francisco, so my partner and I came out here to visit, and we really loved it, and moved out—and here we are.”
When asked what keeps their businesses alive, all three business owners respond with equal passion.
“What I would hope I have to offer is experience and knowledge and judgment that is personal,” Potter explains, “and that if somebody is buying something off the screen, if they know specifically what they’re looking for and they can track it down, they can buy it—but they can’t ask a question about it, they can’t look at it.”
De Bodisco shares similar sentiments.
“I think we offer the 3D experience, and there’s absolutely no aesthetic whatsoever to shopping online,” she says. “I don’t think that you’re ever going to have a pristine experience with a Kindle.You’re never going to open a Kindle and be able to smell the book, you’re never going to feel the book—you’re never going to see it come to life.”
De Bodisco says the most prized book in her collection is a signed first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Logan doesn’t find value in first editions or rare books. Instead, she takes pride in having amassed a large collection of fairy and folk tales from all over the world, which gives her a very personal sense of “completeness.”
Far from a fairy tale, the statistics on reading habits in the United States are daunting.
In October of this year, the Pew Research Center conducted an extensive investigation on young Americans’ reading and writing habits. The study concluded, “More than eight in 10 Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in 10 used their local public library.”
Potter still believes that young people are charged by literature—particularly by authors who embody freedom, rebellion and heavy drinking.
“I find that I can sell the poetry of Rilke, Neruda, Rimbaud, Bukowski, Kerouac—they all seem to be things that go to younger people. Rilke in particular is speaking to a generation on some level that people are connecting with.”
Making that connection is a big part of what keeps all three booksellers interested—and happy.
“I think there’s something to being walked through a collection or even just spending time in a collection that’s been very carefully curated by someone that loves what they do,” she says. “I know that’s a big joy for me as a bookseller, and why I’ve been doing it for over 10 years.”
Pressed to pinpoint what keeps her in the business, Logan’s response is immediate.
“It’s about being able to communicate an enthusiasm about something to someone who’s never seen it before, and having that interchange and them read and having that experience is totally—joyous.”