Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, Monterey, CA


“Life is what happens to you / While you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”For me, life was not what happened to me while busy making other plans. Bookselling was. Brian Cassidy, Bookseller

My first bookstore job was at Iowa City’s Prairie Lights. I was attending the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and working in a bookshop helped support my “plans” of becoming a writer. While there, and though I didn’t realize it at the time (or at least wouldn’t have used the term), I began collecting books: haunting the bargain tables for good buys (once even finding a third printing of Olympia Press’ two-volume Lolita for five dollars), and stalking authors who read at the store to sign my books. Iowa City also had several excellent used bookshops and I began hunting their aisles for books cheap enough for even a poor graduate student to afford. Two years later, I left Iowa with significantly more books than I arrived with.

After graduation, and now in California, my “plan” was to teach full-time. But when all I could find were part-time adjunct positions, bookselling again helped support me, this time at Monterey’s Bay Books. Soon galleys, ARCs, and proofs—a new interest, perhaps especially because they were free—began piling up around the house. I spent many of my lunch hours at one of the three used bookshops within walking distance. The book collection grew.

And when my wife’s career brought us to Colorado, Denver’s Tattered Cover occupied me while I looked for what I “planned” to be my “real” work: teaching, maybe writing, or some combination of the two. At least that’s what I still hoped. Yet by the time we left Colorado, I found that I had risen to the positions of both buyer and Poetry Events Coordinator at the Tattered Cover, and I began to wonder if perhaps bookselling was not in fact itself the plan.

After all, for several years I had been supplementing my book buying with amateur book-scouting, and had become rather adept at shuffling titles from one Denver area used bookshop to another for increasing amounts of cash or credit. So when my wife and I decided that I would be the stay-at-home parent for our daughter, the idea of online bookselling, of this scouting project writ large, occurred to me. I had a good start-up inventory from my years of teaching, collecting, and working in new books: advance issues, signed books, lucky finds from used shops. And my wife liked the idea of clearing some of the many books from the house (insert bookseller laughter here). But this would only be for extra income, of course, nothing permanent. That was the plan, anyway.

Brian Cassidy, BooksellerBut for better or worse, I soon found that not only did I enjoy the work and could profit from it, but that I wished to make it my career. Or at least admit that it’s been a kind of career for the better part of the last ten years. More than my previous work in new books, however, I found used and rare bookselling particularly gratifying. It allowed me to specialize in areas which drew on my background while engaging me in ways similar to teaching (the research, the discovery, the constant opportunities to learn).

Brian Cassidy, BooksellerIn the summer of 2006, I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar on a scholarship from the ABAA. The Seminar gave me the confidence to purchase this past November the former Cannery Row Old Book Company in Monterey (CA), which I now operate under my own name. It’s a small shop with a wide selection: from used books, to antiquarian volumes, to signed, rare and collectible titles. Though largely a generalist, I have a special focus on modern and contemporary literature, with a particular interest in poetry and the avant-garde, small journals and magazines, advance issues (proofs/ARCs—go figure), as well as manuscripts and literary ephemera. This past month, I issued my first catalog, with a second planned for the fall.

But despite all of this, and much to my wife’s consternation, the book piles around the house have only managed to grow. So much for plans. Pity the poor bookseller’s spouse. Not all plans have been abandoned, however; I have not completely stopped writing. This past year, I have written a series of articles on my time as a stay-at-home father for a new parenting magazine, Baby Couture. In July of this year, I’ll be presenting a paper at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP).

In his recent book The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Louis Buzbee writes, “No child sets out to become a bookseller.” But somehow, in that meandering way that seems common to all booksellers, I have become one. And will remain so. At least, that’s the plan.

Brian Cassidy operates Brian Cassidy, Bookseller in Monterey, CA and can be contacted at http://www.tomfolio.com/mall/BrianCassidy.

IOBA Standard, Summer Edition 2007, Volume 8, No. 3.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website