Bright Young Booksellers: Madison Rootenberg Schwartz
Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Madison Rootenberg Schwartz, of Rootenberg Rare Books with locations in Los Angeles, California and Durham, North Carolina. Madison was also a previous entry in our Bright Young Collectors series for her collection of unicorn books.
How did you get started in rare books? Tell us about growing up in a bookselling family.
Books are in my blood; my earliest memories are running up and down the aisles of book fairs, carefully searching through dealers’ inventories, and stopping in bookstores on every trip or vacation my family took. What I now realize is considered “eccentric” was, to me, always just grandma’s house (i.e. a full suit of armor in their entryway). I was taught how to hold the pages of a 17th-century manuscript at the same time I received my first Barbie. I do not take any of this for granted, I absolutely know how lucky I am, and I feel grateful every single day.
What is your role at Rootenberg Rare Books today?
Since it’s a family business we don’t have specified roles, but I will say I am the only one who designs the catalogues which I thoroughly enjoy. The business is truly a collaborative effort. Between my coworker here in Durham, Kiley Samz (who I thank the universe endlessly for bringing us together), my dad and grandma and myself, we all are in constant communication about the books, buying and selling, and fairs.
What do you love about the book trade?
I love that I get to touch history every day. It is remarkable that there is a book on anything anyone can imagine -- any wild or crazy subject, we can find a book on it, and it can start a collection. In fact, the weirder the better! (My dad’s personal collection is bizarre “how-to” books, and my grandmother loves books on teaching medicine to children). Every single day brings a new learning experience.
I also love that I am walking in the footsteps of my grandmother who is a pioneer in the rare book world so I feel very proud and honored to be following her, along with my dad. I actually get to talk to my grandma for work! It’s pretty special.
Some of my favorite moments are the early hours of a book fair (before it opens to the public) when it’s quiet and walking around with my dad calling to each other from different booths “come look at this!”
Describe a typical day for you:
Since working from home (Kiley and I are currently looking for a new office space here in Durham, NC where we will house all our books and host events), my days are pretty low-key. I spend a lot of time going through other dealers catalogues, working through our backlog of books, and creating/designing our next catalogue. I also always make sure to take a dog-walking break.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?
Oh my goodness this is such a tough question since I feel like it changes monthly. Right now I’d have to say Munster’s Cosmographia from 1559. It’s a folio with over 900 woodcut illustrations with maps, animals, monsters (!), portraits, costumes, and of course a unicorn.
What do you personally collect?
Books on or about unicorns. My grandmother helped me start this collection at 5 years old! I am also working on a History of Animal Activism collection (not necessarily for myself but I will have a hard time parting with it eventually).
What do you like to do outside of work?
My husband and I foster dogs through a local rescue in North Carolina that I’ve become quite involved with (Hope Animal Rescue) and will soon be taking on a bigger role with them. Otherwise, you can find me cooking new vegan recipes, reading my endless pile of magical realism and fiction novels, or making my way through the infinite amount of streaming TV and movies.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
I believe books aren’t going anywhere. Rare books, like art, will always be a highly collectable commodity, but I do believe we need to get more young people of all diverse backgrounds involved to keep the spark and passion alive in this industry.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
We are hoping the world will continue to trend towards safety so we can do more in-person fairs. Other than that, we are always brainstorming creative catalogue ideas and have some fun ones in the works (including an Employees Choice catalogue and a Hogwarts Restricted Section catalogue).