Steven Salardino, Manager of Skylight Books, gave us an amazing interview about this Californian bookstore. Salardino tells us about the community of Los Angeles, what is special about their audience, and their favorite books to purchase. Enjoy!
- How does the community of Los Angeles respond to literature and bookstores?
My impression (from inside a bookstore) is that Los Angeles appreciates literature as much as it appreciates the other arts. The city may have a more well-known history when speaking of film and television, music, or other arts but it has a rich literary history as well. All the arts in Los Angeles seem to support each other across mediums and genres. Actors, sculptors, bartenders, and viola players can all get excited about a new Hanif Abdurraqib book. The people of Los Angeles love well-written stories and explorations. And bookstores are vital in creating a place to discover and celebrate this literature.
- How do you think the place where you are located affects the readers’ vision of literature?
Certain writers that are part of our Los Angeles history and tradition (Joan Didion, Eve Babitz, John Fante, Raymond Chandler, Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury) continue to be popular and are considered must-reads for people that live here. By reading these authors, a reader engages with a history of Los Angeles that can be hard to see behind cubes of condominums and strip malls.
- What is something special about Los Angeles readers?
Many Los Angeles readers are very up on literary news. Whether from podcasts or newsletters or some online article, they know what books are supposed to be good or are making waves (or are being optioned for television and film). There are a lot of creative people in Los Angeles and many come in to the bookstore looking for something to inspire them – whether literature, philosophy, or an art book.
- What kind of audience usually goes to the bookstore? Do you have any strategy to attract people?
We program a robust series of author events, which gives audiences the unique and intimate experience of hearing from the writer. These events expand our customer base and brings in people interested in a fun, rare event.
- What can you learn from the reader audience?
Book curation and recommendations is a two-way street. We are always listening to our customers and friends. So many books have become bestsellers in our store from a suggestions that came from outside the staff. Our customers are also very interested in the important and relevant issues of today and are constantly helping us become more educated and making sure we are informed.
- Which are your audience’s favorite books? What can you recommend to readers right now?
Joan Didion has been one of our top ten selling authors month after month for many years. At the moment, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror is selling extremely well. She was in-store for an author event when the book came out and the book has not lost any momentum since then. Sally Rooney’s books was also a popular purchase at Skylight Books this year, along with books by Ocean Vuong, Patti Smith, and Carmen Maria Machado.
- What is the greatest challenge for a bookstore nowadays? How do you see its future?
Monolithic online “one-stop shops” dedicated to becoming the only marketplace for all purchases are really the biggest threat to bookstores (and I would argue most independent brick-and-mortar stores). Our program of events can only exist if we sell enough books to support our costs – our goods, our rent, and our staff. We really enjoy selling the entertainment and knowledge that comes from books. We believe in books! We are at a strange new place and we have never seen these kinds of gigantic online economic models before in the marketplace. It has become something of a “wild west” and some regulation and oversight would be in order. I hope that the places and spaces (like bookstores) where art and literature can be experienced will continue to be well respected and supported into the future.
- What is special about Skylight books?
I find it hard to pinpoint what makes any bookstore special. I love different bookstores for different reasons. Many factors go into creating something unique as well as successful. I think Skylight Books has a nice balance of popular literary titles mixed with unusual and special finds that might not be found in other stores. This also translates into our programming, which is ecelctic and often cutting-edge or experimental but also features more mainstream, trending authors. I think our wood ceiling, brick walls, two-storey-high ficus tree in the middle, and our location also make us distinct. We also have a fairly extensive “Arts Annex” dedicated to extraordinary (and often uncommon) books on visual arts, music, architecture, fashion, and graphic novels. Our informed, opinionated, and empathetic staff, our cat (Franny), and the customers from our own neighborhood and those surrounding all give Skylight Books its own particular atmosphere and attitude. It is, I think, for these reasons and others that are harder to define, like most good bookstores, one of a kind.
Follow them on Twitter: @skylightbooks
Visit their website: Skylight Books