Anybody remember last month’s staff picks? One of mine was My Lunches with Orson, edited by Peter Biskind. Now, I’m an admitted fan, and I’ve read more books about Orson Welles than I’d care to admit, so it was obvious that I’d be reading it as soon as it came out. I didn’t pick up my copy from Island Books, though. I used the release date as an excuse to visit a secret Seattle treasure house, Cinema Books. It’s been in business since 1977, devoted exclusively to movie-related work, and I’m not sure there’s anything else like it in the country. Or anywhere, for that matter.
The owner is also a Seattle treasure. Stephanie Ogle opened her shop across the street from the Harvard Exit theater on Capitol Hill and moved it a few years later to its present location in the University District, around the corner from (and in the same building as) the Seven Gables theater. Throughout the past thirty-six years, she’s been an unobtrusive champion of movie-making and bookselling, rewarded in 2001 by the Northwest Film Forum. They bestowed upon her their George Bailey Prize, named after the character played by Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, given each year “to someone who has made an unrecognized contribution to the local film community, and like George Bailey, has continually worked for the betterment of others.”
Stephanie was kind enough to answer some questions for me via email after my visit.
Q: How did you become a movie fan, and how did you turn from cineaste into bookseller?
A: I always loved movies and enjoyed reading books about film from an early age.
When my brother Jeremy and sister-in-law Susan wanted to open a bookstore in 1977 we decided we must specialize in order to differentiate ourselves from every other bookstore. Susan and Jeremy had become friends with the men who founded the original Wide World bookshop on 45th Street. I was the real movie fan of the three of us and was really enthusiastic about the movie connection. Jeremy and Susan left the store after two years. They wanted to travel and it is difficult to do when you own your own business.
Q: Tell us a bit about the store. How big is it? About how many books (and other specialty items) do you stock?
A: We have 1,000 square feet in space and have about 20,000 volumes on film, television and theatre at Cinema Books. We carry film-related magazines, posters, stills, cards, magnets, and calendars.
Q: With the growth of SIFF and the film industry in Seattle, you must have had more than a few brushes with celebrity. Any highlights to share?
A: We have had celebrity customers such as Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean-Luc Godard, and Colin Firth.
Q: Do you have favorite directors or screenwriters, current or classic?
A: I have loved John Ford movies since I was nine.
Q: Let’s talk about actual books. Do you have a favorite film-related title?
Q: Thoughts about the future of bookselling, for you or in general?
A: Difficult to predict the future of bookstores. We are in a beleaguered state. But it is still has enormous rewards in terms of terrific customers who love books and love movies, a great bunch. They are passionate about everything from Godzilla to the avant-garde.
Q: Everyone working in retail has experienced … oddness, let’s say. (I’ve been hit with “Do you sell sea monkeys?” and “Excuse me sir, what is lard?”) Anything in this vein you’d like to get off your chest?
A: My favorite unusual experience in the store was when a young woman walked into the store and said she had to lie down on the floor because she was about to have a seizure and needed a safe place. A young man was there and helpfully moved a heavy card rack during her seizure because we feared she would hit her head. She recovered soon and started to get up but I made her sit there for a few more minutes to make sure. Then the young man asked “Where’s the camera?” He thought her seizure was staged for a candid camera event. We both assured him this was real. There was no camera. I had never seen the young woman before and she certainly told him she had had seizures all her life. She does get a few seconds warning and always attempts to get herself to a safe place when she knows a seizure is coming on. But he didn’t seem to believe us at all. Kept looking for that candid camera. He left seemingly convinced we had played a great trick on him for the benefit of some video we were filming. I guess that’s what comes of having a movie bookstore.
Many thanks to Stephanie for allowing me to interview her. The next time you’re in her neighborhood, pay her a call. You’ll be glad you did.