50 Years of Island Books: James Crossley
James Crossley has been a bookseller for over 20 years. His longest bookstore tenure was at Island Books, where he wrote so prolifically for their blog that Mercer Island was in danger of capsizing under the weight of his words. He was forced to flee to the mainland, and is now the manager of Madison Books in Seattle, named in 2022 by Publisher's Weekly as one of the five best bookstores in America.
Miriam: First off, my friend, I want to ask you about a way I know you left your individual imprint on the store. That was through buying, a skill which I’m sure comes in very handy today at Madison Books. Can you tell me about your philosophy behind buying and curating what goes on the shelves? In what way did the customers inform the books you chose to order and put on our display shelves?
James: I don't know if I'd call it a philosophy, although it's certainly closer to that than it is to a hard science. The only training I had before doing it involved hanging around in bookstores, but I have done A LOT of that in my life. I guess I think of selecting titles to carry as an attempt to answer a series of questions. Is this book like the others on our shelves? Is it by an author who's already popular? Is it nothing like the books on our shelves in a way that will provide surprise and delight? Is it important? Is it fun and frivolous? Can I imagine the audience for this book? Will we want a huge stack to satisfy hordes of readers? Do we want a single copy to wait quietly in a corner until one person finds it and thinks it was put there just for them? Will someone behind the counter here, maybe me, enjoy it and be excited about selling it? Add up all the yeses and the order is ready to place. Miraculously, the budget always adds up as neatly, almost like I planned it that way.