Our latest Bookshop of the Month is Third Place Books, which has multiple locations in and around Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1998, Third Place “is the deliberate and intentional creation of a community around books and the ideas inside them.” The name comes from sociologist’s Ray Oldenburg’s suggestion that each of us needs three places: the home, the workplace or school, and the place where people from different walks of life interact and celebrate their commonality and diversity.
We had the pleasure of catching up with author events manager Spencer Ruchti.
What do you think is special about Third Place Books?
What other bookstore’s event series can host Olga Tokarczuk and Saša Stanišić, your grandmother’s favorite mystery writer J.A. Jance, a robust lineup of debut romance authors, and somehow find the audience for each? That’s Third Place Books. There’s room for everyone.
As far as the event series goes, I lean on our booksellers to tell me who they want to speak at the store, and then I seek those authors out. The result is an author series that’s as diverse as our collective tastes, and I think that’s not just beautiful and messy, but exactly what a bookstore should be: accepting to all readers, mutually curious, and open to the possibility of finding literature outside of your mien. Imagine if we all picked up books based solely on “the last good book” we read, which is a common question booksellers ask customers who don’t know what they’re looking for. I would have never listened to the bookseller who placed Thomas Bernhard’s Gargoyles into my hands. I would never have developed a perverse obsession with literature in translation. Curiosity is a large part of having good taste.
If money was no object, what changes would you make to your bookshop?
We’ve all seen the beautiful New York Review Books spinner racks, dedicated to that perfect constellation of ephemera that makes up the NYRB list. I would buy a dozen of those and dedicate each to a different publisher’s backlist: New Directions, Transit, Fitzcarraldo, Coffee House, And Other Stories, all of those colophons lined up with geometric precision. I wish more readers understood that who publishes a book says just as much a title as who wrote it.
(But if money was really no object, I would want a second floor for events with 800 comfortable chairs that I never have to store, a $10,000 A/V setup for livestreaming, and an open bar every evening for attendees. Also, three full-time assistants.)
How / why did you get into bookselling?
Like most people: I enjoyed books. I also needed a job. I’ve tried to quit several times, but unfortunately I’m here to stay.
What’s the funniest thing you ever heard anyone say in the shop?
I can’t take credit for this, but this has to be one of the funniest things anyone has said in any bookstore. During the summer of 2020, I heard that a woman walked into a Cambridge, Massachusetts bookstore and demanded a copy of Ibram X. Kendi’s board book Super-Racist Baby. (For those reading this in 10 years, the book is Antiracist Baby). Tell me that’s not funny and totally representative of that era.
What’s your favourite And Other Stories book?
I wish I could say it’s a competition (sorry, Yuri Herrera, I love you), but it has to be The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff, translated by Saskia Vogel. An email thread about Polyglot is arguably how I got my apartment in Seattle. My current roommate is the only person I know who loves that book more than I do.
What book published in the last year do our readers need to get their hands on?
Swallowed by Québécois author Réjean Ducharme, translated by Madeleine Stratford and originally published in 1966. I think Swallowed is Ducharme’s only work available in English? My dear friend Justin Walls (creator of the Du Mois Monthly) and I are unhealthily preoccupied with Berenice, Ducharme’s 9-year-old protagonist. You’ll find no child god as loving, as vile, as intelligent, as full of pure energy, ecstatic rhythm, and bloody language. “When your life is a beautiful love story,” Berenice says, “you live a mediocre life, a failure, a waste of life.” I don’t agree, but who am I to argue with a 9 year old?
Ducharme is an author, like the fluvial German cynics or, I don’t know, Enrique Vila-Matas, who finds you when you’re most in need. And so it was for me. If I was an editor, my first act would be to hire Madeleine Stratford to translate more Ducharme.
What would be your desert island book?
If such a thing existed, Robert Walser’s complete stories.