This interview is from the blog of Portland-based Microcosm Publishing,
conducted by Elly Blue.
We have long been fans of King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington. It’s a humongous store full of new and used books and it’s clear from the minute you walk in that it’s run by kindred spirits. I’m not going to say it’s curated, because that word implies a sort of holier-than-thou poshness that is absolutely not going on here. But like any good bookstore, the books are chosen by someone who knows what they like and cares what you’ll like. A huge bonus is that it’s in Tacoma, which is, as locals told us, the best-kept secret of the Pacific Northwest, and it really is a place we recommend visiting over Portland or Seattle. When you go there, be sure to visit King’s.
King’s owner sweet pea Flaherty answered these questions over email. He promised photos, but for now you’ll have to make due with this one I found on the Tacoma Ledger‘s website. [nwbooklovers.org has added some book cover images and an archival photo of sweet pea.]
1. According to your website’s About page, “Originally founded by King Ludwig I as a gift to Lola Montez, King’s Books was painstakingly moved to Tacoma on April 1, 2000.” There are some major historical gaps here—do you mind filling them in a bit? What made the store proprietors choose Tacoma? Were they fleeing a scandal? What is their stance on the rational dress movement?
Right. So what had happened was, Lola Montez had an illegitimate daughter named Fanny Gilbert. Fanny was an entrepreneur who, in her early 30s, bought passage to Tacoma, shortly after its founding. She set up the leading brothel near the port, appropriately titled Fanny’s. The ensuing wealth was passed down until several times great-granddaughter Petunia Smirk brought the original bookstore over from Bavaria. I think that should clear any historical gaps.
At King’s Books, we are strongly opposed to the rational dress movement. Our clothing closest resembles that of Flo-Jo, while also mixing stripes and patterns, not to mention warm and cool colors. Plus corsets are required for all employees, including the cats.
2. What are your favorite books right now and why? What about your favorite Microcosm title?
My most recent favorite read is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo. In modern Finland, women are raised as vapid commodities and all drugs are banned. The most easily smuggled drug is capsaicin, the component of chiles. It is a quirky, feminist, bizarre take on society.
I also love all the picture books coming out where you get to learn about little-known historical figures, like Miss Mary Reporting, The First Step, The William Hoy Story, and Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea, about one of the first female sports reporters, a school desegregation case from 1847, a deaf baseball player, and the woman who mapped the ocean floor respectively.
King’s Books does well with the biking titles, like Bikenomics and Our Bodies, Our Bikes. My most favorite title has to be Walking with Ramona. I haven’t done the tour yet, but I CANNOT WAIT! I might cry.
3. How did you get involved in bookselling? Can you share any hair-raising/funny stories?
I became a bookseller because I was always in bookstores. They are among my favorite places, so it was a natural transition. After my first bookselling convention, I knew I wanted to make it my life.
King’s Books has had a number of, um, colorful customers over the years, including a woman usually in a Marilyn wig who cut pictures of Gandalf out of books (as she thought he was God) and once bled profusely on our floor and a man who is possibly an Amish robot and/or a cannibal who has a number of interesting theories about the most random of topics.
4. What do you think the future holds for the book industry?
Independent bookstores are thriving. I think bookstores that are community centers will only increase their relevance. I love the close relationships bookstores have forged with independent publishers over the last decade. I am always excited to see the smart, innovative things independent bookstores across the country are doing.
Anything else I ought to be asking?
We have two store cats, both rescues, both named by the public. Atticus (Finch, obv) has been with us for a decade and is all black. Herbert (from Tacoma native Frank Herbert) has been with us since October and is a tuxedo cat. They are the welcomers of readers and the scourge of canines.
Visit King’s Books at 218 St Helens Ave in Tacoma, Washington every day from 11-7!