The Storefront

Nick DiMartino, Renaissance Bookseller

We recently caught up with Nick DiMartino, the longtime buyer for the HUB (Husky Union Building) Branch of University Book Store and the current buyer for the Odegaard branch of the store. (There are seven satellites to the flagship University Bookstore, which serves the University of Washington in Seattle.)

Asking customers to “check out” staff favorites or bestsellers at the store might be a tad confusing for the next 20 months. We learned this when we asked DiMartino what makes his neighborhood unique. “Well,” he said, “for the next two years my bookstore is located in the middle of the campus library. Now that the student union building is being demolished and remodeled, our temporary home is Odegaard Library, tucked into a little windowless room in the middle of a library that serves 10,000 students a day. They eats snacks and drink pop like locusts, and buy up head-sets and jump-drives like there’s no tomorrow. I only wish they bought books!”

In addition to being the bookbuyer at the store for forty years, DiMartino is the international fiction reviewer for Shelf Awareness and leads two group discussion groups: Nick’s Book Club, which discusses new titles at the University Book Store, and the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club, which discusses gay literature classics (Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at Dunshee House, 303 17th Ave. E. at E. Thomas St. in Seattle). DiMartino is also an author, having written several books in the tradition of British Victorian Christmas ghost stories and based on paranormal studies, set in the Seattle area. And he adapts classical works such as The Snow Queen and Frankenstein—with Mary Shelley as the female lead— for the stage.

If you like his shirt, by the way, the store sells them. —interview by Doe Tabor

You’ve really been the HUB bookbuyer for forty years? What, were you a freshman when you started? What brought you to it? In 1969 I gave up my scholarship at Johns Hopkins, left my first year of graduate school and came back to Seattle, and the first job I applied for was at the bookstore. I’ve been the HUB bookbuyer since 1970. I’ve chosen the Nick’s Pick book-of-the-month for the seven branches of University Book Store since 2001.

What’s the best thing about being a bookseller? That you can help people find the really good books. That you can help people have the best reading experiences, guide them to the riches they can’t always find on their own. That you can talk to people who are encountering The Life of Pi for the first time, or To Kill a Mockingbird, and relive the joy and shock of them.

What is the most memorable book event or most entertaining author that you have hosted? Our little bookstore once had an author event for a first-time author named Megan Lindholm and her book, Wizard of the Pigeons. She grew into the famous Robin Hobb.

What have you read recently that you want to press into the hands of your customers? My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley. In the most elegant English, he describes the realities of pet-love, the pooping, the peeing, the throwing up, in a memoir so filled with pure unmitigated love you can’t help but feel it. For sixteen years Tulip was his best friend. His tribute is heart-stirring stuff.

What books have changed your life? Definitely Proust. I’ve worked through the six-volume experience twice, and still just scratched the surface. But you don’t think the same about people afterward. By giving you contradictory data about characters and never telling you the truth about anyone, you realize how subjective all your interpretations of the people in your life really are.

Can you recommend a book that might be off our radar? The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. A thirty-year-old Scottish historian walks across Afghanistan in winter without a weapon, trusting in the hospitality of the people, and taking a battered dog with him. Another always reliable one is The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper.

Does being an author give you insights into bookselling? It’s the other way around. Being a bookseller educates me as an author. It reminds me that I need to reach my audience. It educates me about markets, about genres, about keeping my reader interested. I don’t float off into self-indulgence land.

And what are you working on now? I’ve just finished writing my first memoir, a harrowing (I hope) account of some of the biggest mistakes of my life called That Human Weakness, beginning with the one that turned me HIV-positive and building through a disastrous romance and near brush with heroin. I’m hunting for an agent.

2 responses to “Nick DiMartino, Renaissance Bookseller”

  1. Brad Craft

    The best bookseller I know! Great to see him here.

  2. Nancy Hansen-Krening

    Nick not only improved the quality of my life with his love of books but by ordering books I requested, he helped me reach the students who took my literature classes.

    I would go to see him between my classes and browse the books he recommended making my days considerably brighter. If you’ve not read any of the books he has written, do so. You will be the richer.

    Nick is an extraordinary human being.

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