Booksellers Rock! Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage



Sheryl Cotleur has spent 25 years in bookselling, working up through the ranks doing just about everything. She's spent the last 5 years as Head Buyer for both Book Passage stores (Corte Madera & San Francisco, CA.)



What books recently rocked my world:

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The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina – one of the best writers out there on the natural world, particularly oceans, this book is a careful observation of the wonders of life as observed through migrations and then also brings to bear the devastating effects of climate change.

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The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – a haunting and beautiful novel about the after effects of the Balkans war on the land and its people.  Wow, it’s great!

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A short story in Granta: Sex –  The Fig Tree and The Wasp by Brian Chikwava – this story is brilliant, simultaneously sexy and frightening, about the wayward powers of young rebels in Zimbabwe.

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Best Damn Events we’ve hosted: Al Gore had 2,000 folks riveted by his humor and intelligence only months before the 2008 election. Gary Snyder – a rare public appearance of an icon about whom a lifetime of Zen practice and poetry has created a wise & witty man completely planted on the earth. David Servan-Schreiber had the audience quietly weeping – he is kindness personified -while he talks about cancer.

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Most Entertaining Authors we’ve hosted: Isabel Allende is bawdy, uncensored, a born storyteller and passionate about everything. Folks hang off the rafters to listen to her. Molly Ivins (years ago) – we laughed until we cried – and then we went right out and voted! David Shannon, while a children’s author you should have seen the adults crowding around to share in the rolling-in-the-aisles fun.

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Strangest question a customer has ever asked: While holding a small child “Do you have a copy of Clan of the Care Bear?” Then, just two weeks ago: Customer: Do you have that calendar you’re out of? Staff: “Sorry no we’re out of it.” (Waiting for Godot anyone???)

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Why Our Store Kicks Ass: Because we love what we do and it shows. Plus we get to launch books with our First Editions Club (we picked Tinkers in January, 2010! and even picked Lord of Misrule before it won the National Book Award) and our over 600 events a year. We have luncheons and conferences and classes – sometimes all at once – it’s a wild and wooly scene.

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What Makes our Neighborhood and Customers awesome: We are blessed with intelligent and curious readers many of whom want the book right away and don’t hesitate about purchasing hardcovers. That they are fiercely loyal is cream on the cake. As to our neighborhood we have great weather nearly year around and mountains and ocean spitting distance away.


I Promise You Won’t Find This At Any Other Store: Our ongoing classes which range from language to writing to you-name-it and our 3 conferences each year, mystery, children’s and travel & food writing with over 30 faculty and over 150 attendees for each. In the sidelines world we have some beautiful, fashionable coats and very unique one of a kind, never to be duplicated jewelry, some of which runs to a few hundred dollars.

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Why I Do What I Do: Being the head Buyer for a sizable store is my dream job. I get to exercise a curatorial care over books I discover, fall in love with and want to tell the world about. I love the artistry of it.

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If I weren’t Selling Books I’d Be: An artist (which I already am) who reads on all her breaks (which I already do).

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Books That Changed My Life: Hard to say–most of them do in some fashion. I’m stunned beyond thinking by Lisel Mueller’s poetry in Alive Together, moved beyond words by the history and immediacy evoked in Thomas Power’s The Killing of Crazy Horse; completely undone by the power of the novel The Gift of Rain (Tan Twan Eng) and Burnt Shadows (Kamila Shamsie) – I have been briefly paralyzed by the power of a book – rendered unable to move.

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Top three authors I’d invite to my dinner party: Toni Morrison, Kay Ryan, and David Thomson who wrote that wonderful The People of the Sea.  (Subject to change depending on who’s available and alive in David’s case.)

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Top Three Songs on the Soundtrack to My Life: “Cantus” by Connie Dover, “People Get Ready” sung by Eva Cassidy, and “Blue in Green” performed by Miles Davis.

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My Last Meal Request: Really good crab cakes along with that extraordinary Chilean white wine I had in L.A. (name forgotten) and a perfect crème brulee.


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