Happy One-Year Anniversary!

Happy One-Year Anniversary!

Well, it’s been one year since we opened our doors to the public. The thing I distinctly remember was Ross pushing to open today and me still painting the two window boxes as the Downtown Partnership crew was walking through the door to see what we had created, camera in hand. I was still wearing my painting clothes, which doesn’t mean much because, after 90 days of renovating, literally all of our clothes had become painting clothes.

While this is a far stretch from what Ross and I imagined our 1-year anniversary would look like, we’re even more proud of what we built over the last year—and in particular—in spite of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order that hit in mid-March. There are many things we had planned (Find Waldo, author events, Children’s Book Week, book festivals) that have now been impacted by this awful virus, but I’d rather focus on all that we accomplished instead.

During the holidays, it felt like we were hitting our stride. Our book sales were pretty steady, although still unpredictable. We learned that what we anticipated that our Downtown customers would want (politics and current events) were not the most popular genre. The top-selling genre is general fiction, as opposed to non-fiction. While many bookstores around the country find success offering non-book items, we learned that you guys don’t want the sidelines so much. You’re hard-core readers, and that says a lot about Sacramento. We are the literary city that too many publishers think doesn’t exist in Sacramento. We’ll leverage this to our advantage in attracting big-name authors to our bookstore once we’re able to hold events again. We were also seeing interest in the cooperative events we were doing with the Crest Theater. Proof that our business plan will work.

We were fortunate that we had already invested in a robust website and Point of Sale system prior to opening last April. That positioned us nicely for the sort-of organized chaos that began in March. Our challenge was effectively operating with only half of our staff. For safety reasons, we furloughed all of them, leaving only Heidi and Ross to run things…while our business increased. It hasn’t been easy, but we keep tweaking things to make it run more efficiently. We’ll be bringing back all of our staff when it’s safe.

What this last year taught me—that I hadn’t anticipated—is how many customers would become friends. Not only have we learned many of your names and faces, but we remember when new babies were born or due dates, your children’s names, what types of books you enjoy, and where you work. It’s what I miss most during this shelter-in-place period.

We wanted to acknowledge our wonderful staff and volunteers—Tommy, Megan, Anara, Nicole, Erica, and Shae. It didn’t take COVID to make us realize how much we already appreciated them, but we sure do miss their faces (and help) around the store during the quarantine.

On the horizon for us:

We will survive this and be even stronger for it. Soon, we’ll begin the process of renovating the second floor to become what we’ve been promising clients for the past year: wine, beer, coffee and books. We’ll start with the books part and add the other stuff as we get licensing and permitting. The upstairs will expand on the Art Deco of the first floor, but add more of a Miami Beach flair to it. It’s going to be really fun up there with Flamingos (not real ones) and lively colors.

Once the shelter-in-place order lifts, we’ll continue to offer book delivery (with a small fee) and curbside pickup for those who don’t want to hassle with parking. But please don’t think of us as your Amazon alternative with these services. The whole point to a brick and mortar shop is for that human interaction. Please continue to come in as much as you can. It’s what makes our store special.

We also plan to host an anniversary party for those who supported us during the quarantine period (when it’s fully safe to gather). From the bottoms of our hearts, Ross and I can’t thank our customers enough for an amazing first year. When you come by, you’ll get to see our new sign that was installed on Tuesday. Now you’ll be able to find us even easier.

Here’s a look back on our past year.

Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound: Chat with Authors from Your Living Room

Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound: Chat with Authors from Your Living Room

Resilience: “The ability of a substance or object to spring back easily into shape.” The Oxford English Dictionary could have been describing this year’s Bay Area Book Festival, because that’s exactly what they’re doing. Although the beloved festival only announced its cancellation due to COVID-19 safety concerns on March 11th,  festival director Cherilyn Parsons and her indomitable team have already developed an online alternative: Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound. The restructured event will feature several lecture tracks: voting rights (the original headliner for this year’s festival), health and wellness, and the power of literature during times of crisis.

Beginning on May 1st, virtual attendees can browse the Festival’s website to access #Unbound’s stimulating programming. Live Zoom workshops include “Vote by Mail,” a voting rights discussion with New York Times editorial board member Jesse Wegman, author of Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College and Amber McReynolds, co-author of the book When Women Vote. “Restoring Democracy,” an additional panel with Carol Anderson, Jeff Fleischer, and Elizabeth Rusch, educates young adults about the American election cycle, why voting matters, and how they can participate. 

Health and wellness highlights include a panel on end-of-life planning with local COVID-19 expert Dr. Sunitra Puri and Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, coauthors of A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, as well as “Parenting in a Time of Crisis,” featuring psychologist and New York Times best-selling author Madeline Levine.

#Unbound’s literary lineup delves into diverse topics from mysteries to children’s creative writing and women’s literature. “Queens of Mystery: Writer-to-Writer with Rachel Howzell Hall and Meg Gardiner” is the first installment in the festival’s writer-to-writer conversation series, which will continue through the end of June. “Ready, Set, Write: NaNoWriMo Middle Grade & Young Adult Challenge with the Bay Area Book Festival” is a one-hour challenge for young creative writers designed to help them finish the first draft of a novel. The Festival’s year-round Women’s Lit program will debut its virtual version, Women’s Lit Lunch Hour, with a conversation between novelist Chelsea Bieker and Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress. 

Streaming events through Zoom or posting interviews to YouTube might seem straightforward enough, but the Bay Area Book Festival is aiming higher than spur-of-the-moment uploads. Director Cherilyn Parsons recently paused from her flurry of planning to chat with Capital Books about what to expect from #Unbound, as well as what emotional support readers and writers can offer each other during the COVID-19 crisis.

Edited excerpts from the conversation appear below. 

Capital Books: Your cancellation statement came out pretty recently. Can you tell us about everything that went into the original festival?

Cherilyn Parsons: Yes, it came out March 11th, and we were supposed to go live with the schedule on March 20th. We start planning the year’s festival in the previous July actually, because you have to book the authors that far in advance. We were watching the news, and were hugely concerned about public health, and not wanting to risk anyone. We’re a nonprofit festival and this is a public service, and the last thing we would want to do is create any kind of risk. At first, a few days before the full cancellation, we had decided internally to cancel the outdoor festival. We have a big outdoor fair, which has a San Francisco Chronicle stage which seats about 650 people, we have a big children’s area, then we have a couple hundred literary exhibitors, and then we have a bunch of literary programs which are indoors. First we canceled the outdoor fair, but it became clear that we just had to cancel [the festival]. But we wanted to make sure the authors heard from us before they heard about it on Twitter. Same thing with the exhibitors. There’s a lot of constituencies: our board, major donors, the venues. It’s like a thousand people directly involved in putting on a festival like ours. These are our partners, and we wanted to communicate to everyone. 

Capital Books: Your original cancellation statement pointed participants toward the 2021 festival, so it’s amazing you’re developing an online festival on such short notice. Can you tell us what to expect? 

CP: We previously had 265 authors and 130 programs, and there’s no way we can do all of that online. We respect the authors so much that we want to give them a really solid platform and high production value. So rather than putting two people up in front of laptops with Zoom and then slap it up on YouTube, we wanted to prepare them and make sure of the lighting and sound, so we have now a full system and platform for doing high-quality production for the sessions. We’ll launch it on May 2nd and 3rd, and we’ll likely do one live event on Saturday night that would a fundraiser, but I don’t know all the details yet. We’ll probably do the first program on the Friday night before the festival weekend [the 1st], then we’ll have a kids’ program on Saturday morning, then the fundraising top-billed, author head-liner event that Saturday night, then another kids’ event on Sunday morning, then another event on Sunday night. And then the plan is to go to Tuesdays and Thursdays, probably around 7pm, festival events, and then we’ll do kids’ events. And we’re trying to figure out still the best days, whether like a weekday, or a Sunday morning is a best, but we’ll have at least one kids’ program a week as well. We’re planning to continue through July at least.

CB:  Something that stood from last year’s festival was your author interviews that were led by kids and high schoolers. Is there still going to be a chance for kids to do that this year?

CP: Absolutely! We would welcome engagement on that front. So there are these four areas of the Festival this year: There’s the Voting Rights, Wellness, the pure Literary, and then the fourth area is Children’s. And we are looking at the same kind of thing that we were going to do at the Festival, which is picture book writers doing story times with the kids and little performances. And then [we’re going] to have young people interview authors, middle-grade and YA. So exactly the same thing.  

CB: How do you think readers and writers can support each other during this time? We’re used to FaceTiming friends and family, and many of us have attended the Festival in person. But this whole idea of connecting with your favorite author online, how do you see facilitating that inspiration?

CP: Books themselves seem like a very solitary, interior kind of experience. Usually it’s just you engaging with the book. When the writer is writing the book, it’s just the writer delving deeply into their own heart, soul, mind, what they care about, and then they channel that and put that on the page. They can write the book and read the book at different times and different places but you have this sort of amazing connection between two human beings: the writer and the reader. In a sense it’s already a little bit of virtual reality. You’re entering into this space, and yes, the “screen” is your imagination, and yet that’s sort of what reading is like. When we bring the author into a virtual space and the audience is there, it’s sort of “unbound,” to use our term for the festival this year, in that you can ask questions of the author in real time. And I think we’ll get to hear some of the magic that went into creating this book: how they wrote it, what they were thinking about, what some of the challenges were, what the inspirations were. And the fact that it is sort of live does give you a feeling of participating. For example, you can also do that chat on the right-hand side…I love those! It really creates a sense of community of people who are watching. So in many ways, the online experience offers something the in-person doesn’t offer. Even if we have a physical festival, which of course we hope we do, we’re planning to do this again next year. 

Cherilyn Parsons may fill her answers with the pronoun “we,” but it’s obvious that the Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound owes its lightning conception to her own resilient innovation.  This same optimistic creativity led her to resign from her leadership role at the Center for Investigative Reporting and found the Bay Area Book Festival in 2015. Although this would have only been its sixth year, the Festival had already ballooned to 25,000 attendees, 250 authors, and 200 exhibitors as of 2019. This year’s guest list included literary stars such as Saeed Jones, Rebecca Solnit, Pico Iyer, Garth Greenwell, Lidia Yuknavitch, Percival Everett, and Terry Tempest Williams, several of whom will still appear in #Unbound’s online panels. If we can learn anything from Parsons and her resilient attitude, it’s that sheltering at home doesn’t have to be restrictive. We can reimagine ourselves and rediscover literature from inside our increasingly-too-familiar living spaces. And logging into the Bay Area Book Festival #Unbound is a fabulous place to start.  

Works Referenced

Bay Area Book Festival. “About.” Retrieved from: https://www.baybookfest.org/about/

Drake, Julia. Email Correspondence. 15 April 2020.

Parsons, Cherilyn. Personal Interview. 6 April 2020.

Stuck Inside? Let’s Cook!

Stuck Inside? Let’s Cook!

It seems inevitable that many of us will be stuck inside during the Corona COVAD-19 outbreak. Whether you find that happening to your family – and you feel well enough to cook – take the opportunity to dive into a new cookbook. You can order groceries to be delivered. Heck, we’ll even ship a cookbook you’d like to order. If you’re local, mark your order COVAD-19, and we’ll toss the book onto our doorstep like a paperboy.

Whether you’re trying out a dietary shift to lose a few pounds, going vegan for “Veganuary,” experimenting with new tools and techniques, or simply trying to incorporate more real cooking into your life, there are, thankfully, plenty of fantastic new cookbooks out there to help you meet your goals and find inspiration. Read on for some of our picks for exciting recent cookbooks for the home chef, whether you’re new, experienced, or somewhere in between.

Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook
by José Andrés
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $39.99, 368 pages

Chef and humanitarian José Andrés is on a mission to get people to eat more vegetables, and to appreciate the many versatile ways they can be prepared and served. It’s a mission he’s been working towards for years, with his many restaurants and a non-profit that works to reduce hunger and poverty. Now, the next step for him is this new cookbook, which offers plenty of tips and tricks to help readers develop or fine-tune their love of the plant kingdom, not to mention a wealth of recipes. This cookbook is a game changer for any at-home chef who is looking to incorporate more plants into their rotation.

Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen
By Molly A. Kitamura
Schiffer, $29.99, 224 pages

For a different kind of inspiration, check out this book, which features a number of tattoo artists who also happen to be big on food and cooking. The pages contain both an eclectic array of recipes and beautiful color photography of the food–and of the body art. The recipes are mostly simple enough for anyone to prepare and cover a wide range of tastes and eating styles. And the photographs give readers a close-up view of all kinds of beautiful tattoos, large and small, all tastefully photographed. This is not a cookbook to pick up if you’re looking for a specific recipe, but it’s one that is sure to be enjoyed by both foodies and body art enthusiasts. 


Rustic French Cooking Made Easy: Authentic, Regional Flavors from Provence, Brittany, Alsace and Beyond
By Audrey Le Goff
Page Street Publishing, $25.00, 176 pages

Many people have the impression that French cuisine is fussy and complicated, and that certainly is true of some well-known dishes. But that is definitely not the case for all French food. Recipe developer, photographer, and blogger Audrey Le Goff was born and raised in France, and she’s worked hard to introduce countless readers to the delightful fare she grew up with; this cookbook is simply the logical next step for her. Le Goff explores the many regions of France and offers up delicious, relatively simple recipes that celebrate the flavors and culture of each area. 


Half Baked Harvest Super Simple: More Than 125 Recipes for Instant, Overnight, Meal-Prepped, and Easy Comfort Foods: A Cookbook
By Tieghan Gerard
Clarkson Potter, $29.99, 288 pages

If your New Year’s resolution is to find more balance in the foods you cook and eat, there’s no better place to look than Tieghan Gerard’s newest offering. This beautiful cookbook features a selection of delicious eats from her popular blog, Half Baked Harvest, all of which are intended to make preparing food quicker, easier, and more delicious than ever. To that end, Gerard focuses on dishes that can be prepped ahead of time, that come together overnight, or that use time-saving tools like the Instant Pot. Readers will find a truly balanced mix of recipes in these pages!

The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook
By Nisha Vora
Avery. $22.00, 320 pages

Whether you’re a new vegan, an experienced vegan, or not even a vegan at all, readers agree that blogger Nisha Vora’s beautiful new cookbook is worth adding to your collection. With plenty of recipes to choose from, Vora excels at making healthy, flavorful cooking as simple as can be. Those who have been using the Instant Pot, or a similar pressure cooker, already will delight in having some new meals to add to their repertoire, while newbies will appreciate the many tips and tricks Vora has to offer. This wonderful cookbook includes delicious recipes for all times of day, including dessert. 

The Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermenting
By Kathryn Lukas & Shane Peterson
10 Speed Press, $35.00, 368 pages

In recent years, the art of fermenting foods has been getting its time in the spotlight, and with good reason. Fermented foods are packed with health benefits, and bright, bold flavors appeal to a wide range of taste buds. But many people don’t know where to start, and they may be wary of trusting blogs or older, dated-looking books on preservation. This beautiful, expansive book delves into every facet of fermenting, from history to safety and everywhere in between, and includes a wide variety of recipes to get readers started. You’ll be making pickles, kimchi, hot sauces, and even mead in no time!


South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations
By Sean Brock
Artisan, $40.00, 376 pages

There are certain foods and flavors that are strongly associated with the South, including grits, corn bread, fried green tomatoes, and okra. Readers who love southern food–or who simply want to learn how to cook it–will delight in this cookbook from chef Sean Brock, who breaks down these classics one at a time into their essentials so that they can be mixed and matched into a complete meal or simply enjoyed one at a time. Readers will also enjoy simply learning the important skills inherent in southern cooking, including how to care for cast iron and how to successfully fry foods. This cookbook covers it all!

Cedar and Salt: Vancouver Island Recipes from Forest, Farm, Field, and Sea
By DL Acken
Touchwood Editions, $35.00, 320 pages

Vancouver Island, off the western coast of Canada, is home to a unique food scene all its own, and the artisan goods, heritage grains, and wild foods prevalent in the local cuisine make this island home to a paradise of delicious foods. Readers both familiar and unfamiliar with the area will love this gorgeous cookbook that is packed full of one-of-a-kind recipes that utilize the foods this area is known for while still honoring the local culture and the producers who work to sustainably produce these ingredients. Beautiful photographs and sumptuous dishes are guaranteed to make food lovers hungry.


Create Your Own Bookstore Valentine’s Day Event

Create Your Own Bookstore Valentine’s Day Event

Last night, we hosted such a fun event at our store, Capital Books, for Valentine’s Day. I knew that I wanted to create something different that gave both established couples and those just starting to date something to do besides going out to dinner — or in addition to that.

After a bit of Internet sleuthing, I stumbled upon an event that many bookstores were doing. What she created was a good jumping point for ours. After sharing our event last night over social media, I had several people asking me for the materials I created, so I decided to create this post to offer those materials and ideas to any other bookstores.

I’ll detail what we did and what the staff and I decided to do differently next year.

First, I heavily advertised this across our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages, in addition to our event calendar that sits on a tripod outside of our store and a sandwich board that sits just up the street. We are fortunate to have a healthy and loyal following over social meda, and we’ve trained them to watch those spaces for event announcements (even though they’re also listed on our website). I created an Eventbrite event page for it so I could keep track of the number of attendees so I would know how many scavenger hunt cards to print and how many snacks to make.

I crowdsourced questions for both established couples and new daters. Believe it or not, we had a fair number of new daters come to the event.

Our cash-wrap is near the door, so we had couples check in as they arrived. We handed them each their own appropriate scavenger hunt questions (instructing them to split up) and a pen (buy a pack of cheap pens). We gave them options of either gathering ALL the books first or designating finding a specific number, meeting up to discuss, then finishing. (Eleven books is a challenge to juggle, but some did choose this option.)

Protip: If you have the space, provide some small, empty tables for the couples to set their books and talk about them with each other. We were challenged for space, but our couples got creative with finding spaces to talk.

We chose to close our store for general shopping for this event. I was glad that we did, because we had a lot of couples in here. Having general shoppers would have been way too crowded. 

PROTIP: Hand out drink tickets if you’re being cost-conscious on the beverages you might be serving. We didn’t do this, but will next year.

Rather than have our guests try to return the books to the shelves themselves, we instructed them to place them on our rolling book cart. We had a staff of three or four of us constantly running the books back to their appropriate shelves, so others could potentially use those books. It’s a rather exhausting two hours of running around. Just be prepared that this is not a one-staffmember event. We had one person pouring beverages, one person ringing customers up. Then we had three dedicated to running books back.

This ended up being nearly a 2-hour event for the couples. Getting through eleven books and discussion took that long. We may consider doing less questions next year or telling the couples to select six of the eleven questions. I ended up having a lot of the question cards leftover that I’ll save for next year, but I’ll have to make up new questions for couples who return for round two. 

We got great feedback from the couples who attended about how they really enjoyed doing something different for Valentine’s Day.

Our book sales for that 2-hour period ended up being about $600, too. So that more than paid for the party and staffing. 

Here are some other general photos of the party that may inspire you to do your own.

Inspiring Women to Read About

Inspiring Women to Read About

Roundup by Holly Scudero

December is traditionally a time for looking back, hopefully with fondness, on what the previous year has brought. We think of what we’ve accomplished, the state of the world, the good and the bad, and analyze. And December is also a time for looking forward, with hope for a promising future. We think of what we’d like next year to bring, the dreams we’d like to see realized, the beautiful twists and turns life may take. A good book can help us with both of these goals, letting us both think on history and dream for the future. Read on for some of December’s best biographical offerings.

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years
By Julie Andrews
Hachette Books
$30.00, 352 pages, Hard

Beloved performer Julie Andrews has continued the story of her life in Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years. In it, Andrews discusses her life as an actress, going into detail about how she quickly became famous from some of her earliest and most enduring films and the challenges that brought to her life. Andrews also talks about motherhood, the end of her first marriage, adoption, and her love for Blake Edwards. Fans of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music will love getting this in-depth look at the wonderful Julie Andrews and her fascinating life.

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life
By Ali Wong
Random House
$27.00, 240 pages, Hard

Comedian Ali Wong captured the national spotlight with her recent Netflix comedy special, and her momentum continues with Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life. Ostensibly a series of letters addressed to her own daughters, these pieces will resonate on some level with nearly anybody who picks up Wong’s book, as she talks very candidly on a wide variety of topics: parenting, marriage, her own ethnic background, and the pains of being a working mom. This hilarious and insightful collection is a must-read.

The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir
By Samantha Power
Dey Street Books
$29.99, 592 pages, Hard

Anyone who has followed politics over the past decade or so will likely recognize the name Samantha Power. While she may be most widely known for her work as US Ambassador to the United Nations, she has a long history of activism, and The Education of an Idealist takes readers along on the journey of her life. We hear about her childhood Dublin, her time spent in Bosnia, and her eventual rise to a position in the White House. It’s a fascinating story, and really brings home the idea that one person really can do a lot if they’ve got the drive to do it.

Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For
By Susan Rice
Simon & Schuster
$30.00, 544 pages, Hard

Scholar and diplomat Susan Rice is perhaps most closely associated with Benghazi in the minds of most Americans, but she has been a political force for the past three decades, and has been involved with a number of incredibly complex issues that the United States has had to deal with. In Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For, Rice gives readers fresh insight into these issues, telling her role in the political front line with vivid clarity. Readers will emerge from the pages with a fresh drive to keep American from falling victim to domestic partisan squabbles.

The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women
By Mo Moulton
Basic Books
$30.00, 384 pages, Hard

Novelist Dorothy L. Sayers is famous for her detective series starring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, but this early-twentieth-century author made waves in British society long before that by daring to enroll at Oxford University. As one of the few women to have been admitted, Sayers naturally gravitated toward her fellow female classmates, and together they formed a club of sorts known as the Mutual Admiration Society. This book explores the lives of Sayers and her friends, and the many ways in which they fought to change women’s place in the modern world.

AOC: Fighter, Phenom, Changemaker
By Prachi Gupta
Workman Publishing Company
$14.95, 144 pages, Trade Paperback

Before her name was a nationally-recognized abbreviation, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender, as the stories go. But what drove this fierce, outspoken women to run a wildly successful Congressional campaign powerful enough to defeat a ten-term incumbent and become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress? In this book, author Prachi Gupta explores AOC’s roots, from her childhood in Westchester County, New York, through her education at Boston University and onward.

Sontag: Her Life and Work
By Benjamin Moser

$39.99, 832 pages, Hard

In twentieth century America, Susan Sontag was a force to be reckoned with. From her first major essay in 1964 until shortly before her death in 2004, Sontag wrote and wrote and wrote about a wide variety of topics, primarily in the form of essays and novels. Sontag especially focused on controversial topics like war, popular culture, human rights, illness, and sexuality, and she also wrote extensively about photography. Sontag: Her Life and Work offers readers the most in-depth vision of Sontag ever published, examining her body of work in detail while also providing context about Sontag’s life via interviews and photographs.

If cold, gloomy winter weather has you down, the time is right to pick up a great book on an interesting, influential woman. These selections offer great opportunity to learn about people from our past and present, and to be inspired for the future. Have you read any of these biographies? Let us know what you think in the comments below!