Our dormant Bright Young Things series returns to life this week with an interview with Amy Candiotti of Pistil Books in Seattle.
How did you get started in rare books?
I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Comparative Literature and one of my first jobs was in a used bookstore.
When did you open Pistil and what does the shop specialize in?
My partner, Sean Carlson, and I opened Pistil Books & News, a retail store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle in 1993. As a brick and mortar store, we carried used and new books, periodicals, and zines. We also hosted readings and art shows. We were a general used and new bookstore with books in all subjects, but with specialties in alternative culture, such as politics, gay & lesbian, sex, and drugs/consciousness.
In 2001 we lost our lease and became an online-only store, Pistil Books Online, selling on our own website as well as many other bookselling sites. We still carry used books in all categories, with an emphasis on scholarly non-fiction and books on how to do things: homesteading, crafts, building, do-it-yourself.
What is your role at Pistil?
I am co-owner of Pistil Books, and do everything from buying, cataloguing, supervising our two part-time employees, to the fun stuff like bookkeeping and taxes. I've also been making recycled blank books from discarded library books for years, and am recently delving into other formats of handmade books, and printmaking. My books and cards are for sale on our website.
What do you love about the book trade?
I love being surrounded by books and being constantly exposed to the different ideas and subjects they contain. I love being self-employed and having the freedom of a flexible schedule, and since we've been online only, of working at home, which means I can do things like cook lunch while I'm working, or take a break and go for a walk. My work life and home life are integrated in a pleasing way. And I never run out of things to read.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?
A couple of years ago I attended Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and my class visited the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress where I got to see and handle an Alice in Wonderland with original pencil drawings by John Tenniel.
As for ephemera, a favorite zine from the nineties is called Crap Hound, created by Sean Tejaratchi. It's entirely made up of black and white images very skillfully compiled (cut and pasted by hand, no computers) from vintage advertisements and the like, based on juxtapozed themes, such as "Clowns, Devils, Bait", "Hearts, Hands, Eyes" or "Death, Telephone, Scissors." Some of the issues were reprinted in the last few years, but the originals are collectible and hard-to-find.
What do you personally collect?
I collect authors I like - Paul Bowles, Alan Watts, Alice Munro. But I also have a lot of books that I keep just because I like the book as an object - for instance, a beautiful accordion book from the sixties, with removable colored cards, printed in Japan, that is a "Test for Colour Blindness" - I recently had an eye exam, and the doctor used the same book! I'm also very fond of The Golden Book Encyclopedia and Golden Books in general for their wonderful illustrations and depiction of a specific world view of knowledge and science. I have a collection of children's text books from the turn of the century to the sixties for the same reason.
Thoughts on the present state and future of the rare book trade?
The business has changed so much during the time that I've been involved, it's hard to predict what will happen. But I am confident that there will always be people who love physical books and who will want to read, handle, and collect them.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
Nothing scheduled, but we will have our annual outdoor book sale this summer. It's a chance to see old customers from our brick and mortar store, neighbors, and have a party.