Skip to main content


By December 1, 2018No Comments

Source : Literary Hub


Molly Parent and Stephen Sparks purchased Point Reyes Books in January 2017 after the previous owners decided to retire. In addition to her work at the store, Molly works full-time at 826 Valencia and Stephen was previously a bookseller at Green Apple Books. Thanks to the generosity of the outgoing owners of PRB and others, they were able to purchase the store.


What’s your favorite section of the store?

Molly: I think my favorite section in most bookstores, ours included, is the Essays section. “Essay” is somehow both baggy and precise as a category—any collection of nonfiction writing which attempts to explore an idea from a position of inquiry can fit there. And the fact that a book is in the Essays section means that for some reason, it resisted going somewhere else, like history, science, or poetry. It may be all three. That’s where a lot of my favorite books sit. And right now our Essays section doesn’t have a sign labeling it because some of our signs are down for repair, which feels fitting. I like to imagine someone looking at the display shelf trying to figure out what unites all these strange bedfellows while also being curious about each of them for different reasons.

Stephen: The Nature section, which I think is also a baggy and imprecise descriptor that demonstrates how our attempts at categorization are often limited. The section includes books about plant, animal, and insect intelligence; memoirs by walkers, rowers, swimmers, and explorers; natural histories; studies of the dynamics of tides or deep-sea vents; meditations on ancient trails; collections of essays on birds and the night sky and words that once connected us much more deeply to place; historical analyses of human-created climate change… and so much more. We devote a lot of space to this section, which is fitting given our proximity to a National Seashore, and I think that it speaks to a deep yearning our customers have to connect with something greater and other than themselves.


What’s your favorite book to handsell?

Molly: My answer to this one changes often, but one book I’ve felt particularly satisfied to handsell in the last year is Gossamer Days by Eleanor Morgan (Strange Attractor Press). It’s about spiders. Specifically, it’s about our relationship to spider silk and spider webs. I wasn’t particularly interested in spiders when I picked it up, and I finished it convinced that they are these genius feminist icons. I tell people that even if you dislike spiders, this book will hold your interest and teach you beautiful new things without creeping you out. Of course, there are easier books to handsell, but when someone leaves with this one I feel like I’ve pulled something off, which is the real fun of bookselling.

Stephen: J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine (NYRB Classics) is a densely lyrical chronicle of a man’s deep and, depending on your view of these things, possibly unsettling obsession with hawks. It’s not for everyone! Fortunately, Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the great bird watching destinations in the world, so many of our customers are already primed for this book I think is the Moby-Dick of the raptor world.



If you had infinite space what would you add (other than a bar/restaurant)? Be specific.

Stephen: The thought of infinite space, or even another 1,200 square feet, which would double the size of our store, exhausts me. I love the modesty of our space, which we often hear is just the right size for browsing. Endless choice may sound appealing, but many of the best bookstores are, in my opinion, those that have a sense of balance and scale. Besides, our store is located in a 120-year-old building a couple hundred feet from the San Andreas Fault, so I wouldn’t want to mess with anything keeping this place together.


What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?

Stephen: I’ve been a bookseller my entire adult life, so at this point, not much surprises me about running a bookstore, other perhaps than the occasional clunkiness of our industry. What surprises me about owning a bookstore in a small town, however, is just how incredibly supportive and dedicated our patrons are, whether they’re local or come from further afield. I can’t think of another retail business that is so cherished by its customers. On the tough days, this kind of enthusiasm makes up for the low margins.

Molly: Sometimes when we tell people we own a bookstore, we get reactions like “Do people read books anymore?” or “Wow, that’s brave.” So I think some of those people would be surprised to know just how many times a day customers tell us how much they value independent bookstores like ours, how dedicated they are to buying real books, and how committed they are to keeping these spaces in the community. A lot of the customers who voice this are young, defying the stereotype that kids today are all about screens. We see evidence every day that all kinds of people treasure physical objects, analog experiences, and authentic connections that can be found in a bookstore. At this point, I guess I’m surprised that anyone still thinks bookstores are dying out. I see them as relevant as ever.



What’s your favorite display? Do you have pictures?

Stephen: We put up a Utopian display a few months back as a modest gesture against the current dystopian creep. It’s easier to fight for something rather than against it, I think, and so we should be reminded of our better impulses (even if they’re occasionally silly, as many utopian visions are).

Molly: I don’t think it’s possible to look at our display wall of children’s books without smiling. There are such beautifully illustrated and cleverly written children’s books coming out all the time, and while it’s not where I’m doing most of my reading (yet—our first kiddo on the way, so that’s about to change!) it’s always good for a pick-me-up. Plus, the big friendly gray whale floating above that wall adds to the charm.


Tell us about your most memorable author event.

In the 22 months since we bought the store, we’ve hosted Michael Ondaatje in a barn; Thor Hanson at a meadery (yes, of course, we have a local meadery); we’ve hiked with Argentinian writer Maria Sonia Cristoff and her translator Katie Silver; we once spent 8 hours and ate several dozen oysters with an author visiting from New York; had another writer come for two days and end up staying for a week because he was so smitten with Point Reyes; we mucked about in the mud and planted a tree with Peter Wohlleben; we had one author bring a dozen jars of her homemade jam to her book signing (and yes, she signed some books in jam); and, in general, have used owning a bookstore in one of the most beautiful spots on the California coast as an excuse to invite people we like to hang out with us. We do memorable events pretty well.



What’s the book you want to bring back into print?

Donald Culross Peattie’s Natural History of Western Trees, which is written with unmatched vigor, enthusiasm, and deep knowledge, is tragically out of print. Someone please rectify this. We promise to sell hundreds of copies if you do.


What’s your message to Amazon (and Amazon customers)?

We need to reflect on what kind of communities we want to live in, and then do the work and make the choices that create that community. If you want a grocery store that’s walking distance from your house, where you can run into your neighbors and pick up a bottle of wine or some produce on a whim, then you have to do the things that keep a neighborhood store in business—like buying your toilet paper there, rather than ordering it online. These are the kinds of choices that are less fun and romantic than shopping in a bookstore, but contribute to a community where we’re all connected by little things like getting out of the house to run errands and the physical spaces that we share.

There is privilege in this argument. It’s crucial that we fight for absolutely everyone to have access to free spaces, affordable fresh food, and books. And we don’t see the fight for social and economic justice being led by a corporation that makes billions of dollars a year and doesn’t pay federal income tax.


What’s a children’s book that made you cry/that you think all adults should read?

Stephen: Du Iz Tak? may not be capable of bringing about world peace, but I’m convinced that even bitter enemies might find something to giggle about if forced to read aloud to each other from this book.

Molly: Charlotte’s Web comes to mind. Crying, check. It’s also about compassion, advocacy, friendship, love and loss. Does it sound like I have a thing for spiders? I don’t. It’s a complete coincidence that both books I’ve named in this interview are about spiders. I do think everyone should read Charlotte’s Web.


What’s a bestseller that could only be big in your town?

Point Reyes is one of the natural and geological wonders of the country, a place rich in bird, plant, and animal life (elephant seals, Tule elk, bobcats, mountain lions, even, if scat is to be believed, an occasional bear). As with any such place, a good guidebook proves useful. We’re lucky to have Jules Evens’ classic Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, which is surely one of the most engaging and captivating guides available for any region.


Gaston Bachelard (translated by Maria Jolas), Poetics of Space 
This investigation into what spaces mean to us may be a classic work of phenomenology, but it reads like a familiar dream. Drawing from literature, psychology, and his own wistful observation, Bachelard explains our attraction to certain homes, the satisfaction of a well-made box, the nest and shell as metaphor, and all that we hold dear about interior spaces real, remembered, and imagined. Rather than de-romanticizing the subject with analysis, this book
illuminates the poetic universality of our nostalgia for home. Reading it, to me, felt like arriving there.

James Baldwin, Another Country 
Another Country pulls you into its big world and tugs your heart along with it. An unforgettable book that I think everyone should read.

Marcia Bjornerud, Timefulness 
Marcia Bjornerud’s book tells the story of the deep history of Earth, a history that’s been punctuated by cataclysmic and unfathomable violence. Oddly, I found comfort in learning about the processes by which this little ball of rock has evolved into a habitable planet and, despite our best efforts, will continue to be so for billions of years to come.

Hernan Diaz, In the Distance
What a strange, meandering story this is. Call it a western, an anti-western, whatever you want: Hernan Diaz’s novel, with its vivid setting and characters, its upending of the simple mythology of westward expansion, will haunt you long after reading it. This belongs on the shelf with Blood Meridian and Oakley Hall’s Warlock and is similarly destined to become a classic.

Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman), Signs Preceding the End of the World 
A quick and haunting read about crossing borders of all kinds: between the U.S and Mexico, and also across language, gender, and reality and other-worldliness.

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins
CLR James’ classic study of Toussaint l’Ouverture and the Haitian slave rebellion is a gripping and, in times like ours when tyranny is on the rise, inspiring read. Full of intrigue and drama, this epoch-making event is rendered in vibrant colors and with a clear-eyed understanding of its impact in the Caribbean and beyond.

Alice Oswald, Memorial
The most astonishing book by my favorite living poet. Memorial boils The Iliad down to its essence, as Oswald presents a roll call of the dead interspersed with Homer’s memorable similes. Stark and haunting, this is an original poetry.

Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures
These “lectures” meander through subjects—poets and the moon, the joys and sorrows of reading, fear, and irreverence, to name a few—with a voice full of wonder, wit, and wisdom. Guaranteed to inspire any writer, dreamer, creative soul, or lover of words, Madness, Rack, and Honey is the book I always wish I were reading again for the first time.

Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies 
Swimming Studies is a gorgeous love note to water and the practice of swimming. Meditate in this book’s cool, chlorinated depths, and you’ll see swimming differently when you come up for air.

Jenny Xie, Eye Level 
In an age of self-confession, Eye Level stands out for many reasons, not least Jenny Xie’s incomparable ability to disclose the secret contours of the self while also displaying remarkable restraint, leaving the mystery of personhood secure in its innermost chamber. This is as much a book of wisdom as it is poetry.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.