After 25 years with the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colo., buyer Margaret Maupin, the acknowledged "grande dame of Denver bookselling," will retire at the end of the year. For Maupin (cousin, on her husband's side, of writer Armistead Maupin), who turned 70 in August, it's time to go. "We're going to miss her," said Sam Scinta, associate publisher of Colorado-based Fulcrum Publishing. "Her taste, her professionalism have been without peer."
Maupin's absence will be felt not only in the West, but throughout publishing. Earlier this month in New York, 45 publishing friends threw a party to say goodbye to a woman, who, observed Karen Torres, v-p, director of marketing, Hachette Book Group USA, "epitomizes what people think of as an independent bookseller. She was always classy and first rate in her delivery of what she liked or didn't by way of books and authors. She is what comes to mind when you discuss the great independent store, the Tattered Cover."
Late last month, PW met with Maupin in her basement office in Tattered Cover's new store on Colfax Avenue, and used the occasion for one last interview, on the things that stand out most after two and a half decades in the book business.
PW: What was your first job at Tattered Cover?
MM: Everyone starts at the counter [or cash desk]. Mainly you're ringing up books. It's a wonderful way to learn a store. You realize the diversity of book buyers; for every strange book, there is a buyer. There was an Australian distributor that did a $50 book on making objects out of margarine, Margarine Modeling. I bought one, and someone finally came around and bought it.
PW: What are the biggest changes you've seen in bookselling?
MM: The computer. There would never be superstores without the computer. There would never be a way to keep track of 200,000 titles. That's why Borders and Barnes & Noble could become superstores. That's why we became a big store.
The second is the amount of books published, which is increasing every year. It used to be 50,000 copies. Now it's 200,000. A lot of books are published that should never have been published, which has always been the case. But [today] there are more. For example, there are gift books that are basically greeting cards. Every restaurant owner in New York and San Francisco and every place in between has a cookbook—and people are cooking less.
PW: Are there any other changes that stand out?
MM: It seems to me that there are more and more books on current events that have the life of a month. Everyone has to have the book, and then it's like the faucet is turned off. They've gone on to the next person. I see a shorter shelf life for a lot of these books, and people don't want them in paperback.
PW: Have you had any mentors along the way?
MM: Joyce [Meskis, owner of Tattered Cover] trained me for a whole season. She's a wonderful example of how people should treat books. She treated each list and each rep with so much respect.
Rick Simonson [of the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle] and I are the only two people who buy books and do events. He was a big influence for me. I would call him up when I got discouraged. I will always thank him for that. And that's the nice thing about independent bookstores. What I'll miss is the friendships I've developed. They're not good friends in any sense other than we all are in this business and love it and love each other.
PW: Are you hopeful about the future of bookselling?
MM: There are many, many people who love to come to the bookstore and browse. I think we're a great resource for people. There is a certain excitement and satisfaction driving to the store and getting the new Thomas Pynchon.
I'm optimistic that there will be bookstores. I've seen many people come in and they're just out of college or in their 30s and they'll say, "I haven't read anything in a long time." They've been so focused on classics or the canon, so to speak. They want to read for pleasure now. They're interested in what's on the bestseller list and what we like and recommend. Then they develop their own tastes. Two months later, they come back, and they'll hunt up the person who recommended what they liked.