The joys of neighborhood bookselling

There has been a bookstore on top of Queen Anne hill almost continuously since 1998. Queen Anne Books, the bookstore that was the precursor to (our Bookstore of the Month) Queen Anne Book Company, changed hands once since its founding and moved roughly half a block north. Three years ago, the store closed for several months before reopening under the slightly modified name and new ownership. One of the points of continuity between Queen Anne Books and Queen Anne Book Company was bookseller Wendee Wieking, who has been working for the organization since 2007.

Wieking, who has lived on Queen Anne since the 1980s, refers to her almost decade-long career at QABC as “a dream fulfilled.” She says she “always wanted to work in a bookstore,” and that “I love it more than I thought I would initially because I’ve come to understand what it means to be a bookstore in a neighborhood like this.” So what does it mean to be a neighborhood bookstore? “I love being surrounded day in and day out not only by the books on shelf, but people who love books and love to talk about books.” She says that having a neighborhood bookstore “makes us a better neighborhood.”

Wieking says QABC reflects its neighborhood through its stock. “I would say that for a store our size we have a fairly significant cookbook and cooking literature section. We try to not have just Plenty and Jerusalem and the really hot cookbooks, but we try to break out the section in terms of region and parts of the world.” Mysteries and the kids’ section are the other two highly specialized parts of the store, she says, that have been most shaped by QABC’s customers.

Contemporary fiction and memoir are Wieking’s specialties. When I ask what she’s been reading and loving lately, she laughs and says “I’m going to pull an old one out of the hat for you. It’s by Moss Hart, the playwright, and the book is called Act One. It’s a memoir — the story of his life from his childhood straight up to the premiere of his first film.” Wieking compares the book to the equivalent of “sitting down to dinner with a great conversationalist and storyteller.” The book was originally published in the 1950s, but novelist and bookseller Ann Patchett convinced her publisher to reissue it. Wieking says she’s “single-handedly trying to get it in everybody’s hands that I can.”

Another book she’s loved lately is Bettyville, a memoir by a New York magazine editor who returns home to Georgia to take care of his 91 year-old mother. “It turns out that he is a gay man and this was an issue that was never talked about in his family,” Wieking says. She calls the book “a beautiful tribute to his mom.”

Wieking says she knows there’s “chitter-chatter out there about books dying and people not reading, but I just don’t see that in my community.” On the neighborhood level, she says, publishing is doing just fine: “I don’t want to say we’re protected or insulated from the problems [that the publishing industry is facing], but I have a sense that the neighborhood is deeply tied to the store.” In fact, as much as Queen Anne loves QABC, the bookstore loves the neighborhood back just as much. “When I come in in the morning and flip the lights on and people are waiting to come into the store,” Wieking says, “that’s a great feeling.”