The other day I was lying on the couch drinking decaf coffee and thinking random thoughts when this one popped into my head: Wouldn’t it be fun to ask Adam a bunch of questions about books? Adam Jones has been the manager at inklings bookshop for several years. And he also happens to be my beloved cousin, friend and fellow bibliophile. He is smart, kind, and full of brilliant, witty observation. I’m pretty sure this is an impartial point of view, and am absolutely convinced that if I didn’t know him from . . . well, Adam (I can’t believe I just wrote that), I would quickly come to this same conclusion.
So, back to my story, I emailed Adam some questions and then we met up for coffee to visit and do a mini photo shoot. Here’s what Adam had to say about book clubs, hot reads for 2014, some of his favorite authors and why indie bookstores have a prominent place in the heart of any community lucky enough to have one.
To start, can you give a little background on yourself?
I started working at Inklings during summer breaks while I was in college. At that time, the co-owner of the store just happened to be my cousin, Mandi! After I graduated, and after a few false starts, I was back in Yakima at the exact time Inklings needed a new manager. That was over ten years ago! Since then, I’ve been the general manager of the store. I’ve also picked up a couple other roles along the way, which is how it works in a small business. My favorite “task” is buying the sidelines for the store.
Though I’m not a Yakima native, I’ve made my home here since 2003. I live by Franklin Park with my crazy dog and my partner, Greg.
If you could have dinner with any literary figure who would it be and why? What would you eat and drink?
This is the hardest question to answer. I want to do a crazy long list, but I have to pare it down, so here’s the short list: Nancy Mitford, Muriel Spark, Margaret Atwood and Marguerite Duras.
I would be terrified of both Marguerite Duras and Muriel Spark, so I’ll scratch them off the list. And I don’t know if I have a suit nice enough to meet Nancy Mitford in, so that brings the answer to…Margaret Atwood
She’s such a hoot! Let me insert – If you don’t follow her on Twitter, get on that right away! She’s sharp as a tack, even in less than 140 characters. I also know that she’s very generous with her time and attention with her fans, so though I would be flipping out a bit, I think I could handle the meeting! She is also Margaret E. Atwood, so you would be bound to leave the conversation with your head spinning with ideas and notions.
I think she would love our Valley – she’s so knowledgeable about history, and ecology, and I think it would be a treat to show her around. Ideally, she’d visit in the summer so I can take her to the Bale Breaker tasting room while Imogene’s is serving dinner there. She strikes me as the kind of person who would enjoy a pint of something cold, and this way I wouldn’t have to spend my time worrying about feeding her! Because I would have so many questions. Eventually, I would want to ask her about her novel “Life Before Man.” That book fascinated me when I finally read it last summer, probably because it’s plot is so tightly focused on just the time of life I find myself in (though, as I am neither a moony paleontologist nor a depressive woodworker, I do not relate to the exact plot points). As it has such autobiographical elements I wouldn’t want to be rude with my questions, but I do wonder what she thinks of it, thirty-odd years after it was published.
What are your tips for a successful book club?
I don’t currently belong to a book club, so I feel a little bit like a cheat answering this! I’ll do my best, based on my observations:
I think sometimes we worry too much about the fun, but honestly, your group WILL be fun! Getting together with friends over wine and some nibbles, while talking about books? You’ll have a great time!
Instead of worrying about that, ask yourself what the aim of your club is, and how to structure your time together to meet that goal. If you want to talk about books with a little bit of seriousness, lay a few ground rules.
From what I’ve gathered, the key points to enriching exchanges over books are: chose your books carefully, and do a little research.
Have criteria for what you read, whatever it is. Are you going to read through the classics? Will you only read books that have been reviewed in the New Yorker? Something like this can help to assure that a book is worth your while and will generate good conversation. If you don’t have this nailed down, and you let everyone pick a book (which is only fair), your group might end up reading “Goosebumps” – or something worse! If that’s the case, the conversation is pretty much derailed before it even starts.
Secondly, if you want to learn something from the group, it will take a little bit of work. You don’t have to write a doctoral dissertation, but do a little bit of research. I know of groups that ask someone to do a presentation on the author, or about the themes or style of the book, before the general discussion. I always thought that would be fun, and give the group a solid jumping-off point for conversation. And there’s lots of resources available now that are designed for just this sort of thing, so you don’t personally have to slog through the Library of Congress to gather this info! If you want the conversation to go farther than just “I liked it/I didn’t like it,” give your group the tools to do so.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I just started “The People in the Trees” by Hanya Yanagihara, and I’m halfway through “Empress Dowager Cixi” by Jung Chang. Incidentally, these are both fairly new books that had not appeared on my radar at all until I was in Seattle and picked them on a trip to the University bookstore. One was a staff pick (regrettably I can’t remember the staff person’s name), and the other was nicely displayed in the Asian history section. So you see, even booksellers need help finding the perfect read sometimes!
What are the new books for 2014 that you can’t wait to get your hands on?
I’m very excited for Helen Oyeyemi’s new book “Boy, Snow, Bird.” Her book “Mr. Fox” was such a gem, and the new book is getting a lot of press, which I hope translates into more people reading her.
The amazing, demented Patricia Lockwood is publishing her first book of poetry with a major publisher in May. She’s previously published with small presses and online, but the new book is with Penguin, and called “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals.” I can’t remember the last time I saw someone doing something so fresh and, frankly, shocking, with poetry. It’s incredibly fun to watch.
And Roz Chast is releasing her first book of non-fiction, a graphic novel autobiography titled “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” I read it in advance, and while it’s not a long book, it is nowhere near slight. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious.
Two cookbooks (I’m an addict) that have caught my eye in catalogs and previews so far:
- “A Mouthful of Stars” by Kim Sunee (who wrote the gorgeous “Trail of Crumbs”)
- “Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods” by Erin Gleeson – hands down, the most beautiful cookbook I’ve seen in ages!
Honestly, it’s going to be a big year for books. Superstars that are releasing new titles this year include Emma Donoghue, Michael Lewis, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Michael Cunningham, for starters. It’s gonna be a bumper crop!
If you could live inside one book, which would you choose?
This is tough, because many of the books I love depict a world I would rather not live in!
I think I’ll go back to childhood for this one: I remember reading Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia: The Robber’s Daughter,” and wanting to run away to the enchanted forest in that book and live with wild and crazy robbers! In reality, I was such a quiet, timid kid, who never broke any rules. I think what I wanted was to be as brave and bold as Ronia and Birk, and to laugh at danger like they did (I seem to remember that they liked to say that phrase a lot?). That’s never really happened, so I’ll revive that wish!
I also remember very clearly wanting more than anything to get into Willy Wonka’s factory, and finding it utterly unfair that I couldn’t.
What does it mean for Yakima to have a indie bookstore like inklings in its midst?
We love books here, and I mean that sincerely. Our entire staff reads and reviews books; we love to talk about them, and share them with our customers. I love it when a co-worker tells me how they just put their favorite book in someone’s hand, and convinced them to give it a try. We get so excited about it! Other times, you’ll find one of our staff having a long talk with a customer, sharing their mutual love for a book, or their disagreements! That relationship is about a shared passion, and it’s a genuine one.
From the beginning, the idea for Inklings was to be a “place set aside for books and their friends,” and I think on the community level, we matter exactly because our goal has always been bigger than just to sell books. We want to be a gathering place for our community, and to be engaged with our community. It’s part of the reason we’re so confident in the face of online retailers and big box stores. We enrich our community’s experience with events, from the serious to the silly. We help young readers find that first book, that key that will open up their world to the possibilities of reading. We’re involved with local schools, providing books for their libraries, and holding fundraisers for them. And on a most basic level, we’re open every day of the week, with big, comfy chairs for you to read in! I love looking up from my work, and realizing we’ve had the same customer browsing our store for hours. It’s that sense of place, and that relationship with our reading friends that is so key; I don’t think any algorithm will ever be able to duplicate it.