Quail. ive Hawkins.

The art of bookselling: Quail Hawkins and the Sather Gate book shop : oral history transcript / and related material, 1978-1979 online

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certainly was never considered unmanly to be dressed up very fancy.


Hawkins: So I can't get too excited about these things. I don't like to have
people speak' v in the so-called Free Speech language in my presence.
I was brought up where you didn't feel that a man or a woman had to
speak to you in the terms that you hear being used in today's conver
sation. That was considered well, if men wanted to talk that way
when they were alone, they did, but they didn't talk that way in
front of women.

It still shocks me today to hear women using words like "shit"
and things of that sort in common conversation. It shows a lack of
imagination, it seems to me, that every other word should be a bodily
[laughs] I just don't happen to care for it. I think there are other
ways. In fact, I remember when I was young my mother overheard my
brothers cursing and she said, "Well, that's man talk, but you don't
talk about it with us. If someone really makes you mad and you want some
high sounding words, all right, you can just call someone a "son of
a laughing Malaga jackass." Of course, a laughing Malaga jackass
was a bird [the kookaburra] but [laughs]. So one of my brothers
tried that and he said the boy fought him!

So it offends my ear when I hear that language used commonly.
It truly does. It's just my bringing up, I realize, but I think there
are other words in the language that you can used to express yourself.
I think it's a paucity of language to some extent to use these terms.

Maguire: Do you remember any particular Telegraph Avenue characters that used
to come into the shop?

Hawkins: I told you about Mrs. Pink Ink [see p. 13], but I don't remember any
particular characters. There were lots of characters that came in
the Sather Gate Book Shop. I remember one whose name I shan't men
tion. She wore a long cape and she carried a walking stick. She
always wore rather masculine dress, and she'd come in (she was an
older woman) and she'd point her stick at someone and she'd say,
"I'll have you'." You felt as if you were going to be eaten up for
dinner. [Laughs] And you waited on her.

Then, of course, there was one very nice old lady who taught
English to foreign students. She always gave her students a present
and she wasn't very rich. We had ten-cent books then, and she'd
come in and get twenty ten-cent books and ask us to wrap them for
gifts. So we'd have to wrap twenty individual books for ten cents
apiece. But those people were nice. I didn't feel bad about that.

There was one customer who never could make up her mind. She
was a nice woman but she never could decide what she wanted, and it
was impossible to wait on her. You never could make a sale because
she couldn't decide what she wanted. So the first person who saw
her would just vanish into the storeroom, and the second person who
saw her would just vanish, and the one who was left was the one who
had to wait on her. [Laughs]


Hawkins: There were different types of people, but mostly they were interesting.
I felt that being in the business I was in was very special, and most
of the people loved books. It was always sad, though, when people
that loved the books so much couldn't afford them and would buy too
many books at Christmas time, and then would have to spend the rest
of the year trying to pay for them. They would be on what we called
the "don't charge list," and you weren't able to charge any books to

Disruptions of the Late 1960s

Maguire: Did the violence of the late 1960s affect the Sather Gate Book Shop?

Hawkins: To some extent, but at that time I was working down in Emeryville
and I missed it entirely. I didn't see it. But at one time tear
gas got into the store. There was a great deal of running in and
out. I remember one time down on Shattuck Avenue, some youngsters
had been demonstrating and they went into a shop. And the police
went in and herded everybody in the shop out, including all the
customers, and took them down to jail. There was a big uprising
about that among the people who objected to that. Then there was a
time when the National Guard was out and you couldn't go on certain
streets, and that, I felt, was a terrible thing very, very bad.

I really felt that whole thing had been handled badly in the
beginning and that if it had been ignored completely, if they hadn't
made all this hullabaloo about it, that it would have died of its
own accord. I think that it was all the publicity it got that fanned
the flames. Of course, I may be wrong. I'm looking at it from the
outside. I don't know what it would have been like if I had been in
a position where I had to make a decision.

But I think many times a thing starts small, and because someone
gets uptight, then both get uptight and then it begins it's like
a family quarrel in a way: "You said so!"

"I did not.'"
"You didi"

"I didn't!" That kind of thing. Before long, they're rolling
around on the floor and having a fight, hair pulling and all.


Hawkins: Whereas when you get older, if you know how to say, "Well, I really
shouldn't have said that. I beg your pardon. I'm sorry." Then the
other one's left with his mouth hanging open. He can't come back at
you because you've already apologized, and you're in a position
where you are the superior person. It works over and over again.
"Maybe I spoke too roughly. Maybe I was thoughtless. I didn't mean
it perhaps the way you thought I did." And then it begins to take
the wind out of their sails. But this confrontation business always
leads to trouble. That's my opinion. [Laughs]

Business and Books

Maguire: I have some general questions on bookselling and my first one is,
are booksellers good businessmen?

Hawkins: [Laughs] Well, some are and some aren't. It's certainly, these days,
not for a genteel person. In the old days, sometimes people went
into the book business because they thought it was genteel and it was
a gentleman's business, but definitely not now. It's a high powered
business and not only that, it's a very precarious one. I would
never, never, never want to own a bookshop.

Maguire: Are librarians good businessmen, or were they at the time you were

Hawkins: Librarians were the most underpaid people, aside from booksellers,
of anybody. Books just aren't big money except at the publishing
end. That's where the money is. And they can be losers too, but
that is where the money is, the publishing end of it. Not the
authors, but the publishers. Some authors make a lot, but the majority
do not.

[end tape 1, side 2; begin tape 2, side 1]

Qualities of a Good Bookseller

Maguire: What qualities would you say a bookseller should possess

Hawkins: [Laughs] That's not an easy question. He certainly should possess
enthusiasm for what he's doing. He should possess a sense of money
because the costs are so high and the profits so little in bookselling;
he has to be very keen. If he's the buyer, he has to have an intui
tion about what's going to sell and what isn't going to sell, and a
very great power of selectivity because with very few exceptions,
the stock of a bookshop has to be moderate rather than enormous.


Bookselling Today

Hawkins: I no longer think it's necessary to like books, as it was when I sold
books. I don't think that a person who likes books,, necessarily, is
very good at it because it's now a dog-eat-dog sort of a thing. It's
a business. It's not a gentleman's game by any means. It's really
a jungle. I feel very pessimistic about bookselling. When you're
not allowed, if you're a bookseller that is, a clerk to serve your
customer other than pointing out where certain books might be, I don't
consider that bookselling at all. I consider it wrapping up books.
It's merchandising, and it's not the same thing at all.

Maguire: Do you ever find real book people in bookstores these days?

Hawkins: Once in awhile you can find them in a few places, yes, the old-timers
that are still there. But, generally speaking, it 's very hard, cer
tainly in this area. You go into bookstores, for the most part,
and they don't wait on you at all. You ask for a certain book
"Well, what subject is it?" They don't know nor care about it. I've
called up some bookstores- here, when I wanted to find if a certain
book was in stock to come downtown and get it, and they say, "Oh,
we're too busy. We can't look for it. Come on down to the store."

There's just no sense of service at all, and this is the very
great difference between what it was like when I was selling books.
The sense of service was tremendous. You really cared that the per
son found what he was looking for, or what she was looking for, and
you tried to find it for them. This business of being absolutely
indifferent and just standing at the cash register "You go and find
the book, if you can find it, and bring it and I'll wrap it up for
you." They have no more interest in it than that.

Now, there are a few places where that isn't necessarily true
but there are not very many, and that is certainly more true than
not. But there are a few small places. Of course, I think that
Hink's book department is more like a real bookstore because the
people that are there were in Sather Gate, most of them worked for
Sather Gate, and so they have this idea of a bookshop which Sather
Gate never lost.

Maguire: What would you say are the elements of a really great bookstore?

Hawkins: The elements of a great bookstore? Well, I can't say now, because

as I say, my idea of a bookstore is a place where you go in and you
become aware of all the ideas in the world sitting there waiting for
you to find them out , and there is someone there that will help you
discover them if you don't know already and open doors for you that
you hadn't had open. But that isn't true now. Nobody seems to care.


Maguire: Hypothetically, if you were to open a store now

Hawkins: Well, if I were going to open a store now, I would have a specialty
shop. It wouldn't be a general shop at all. I would either have
books on natural history or I would have books on a number of sub
jects. There would be philosophical ideas, perhaps, or something
of that sort. I think it would be more apt to be a specialty shop.
I think you're more apt to make a go of it if it's a large enough
subject to have people really interested.

Fiction nowadays is not easy to sell, and there is so much
fiction coming out. And they're so expensive. Books are so fright
fully expensive now $13 and $14 for nonfiction books, just ordinary
ones, and $12 nothing under $8.95 or $6.95 in the way of fiction,
a mystery story, $6.95. Paperbacks have really taken over for things
like that, and I think a paperback store, generally speaking is more
apt to do well than a general bookstore. But then, this is just
opinion. I don't know. I may be very wrong.

Television and Reading

Maguire: What would you say the effects of television have been on book

Hawkins: I think television has been deadly as far as children are concerned
because I think that television dulls your imagination. My great
complaint for television is that you have to take someone else's
vision. You don't use your own imagination to visualize something
within yourself, so you don't develop your imagination. With books
you do. You have to use your imagination and visualize. The words
have to have some meaning in your mind. Well, if your children grow
up so that they cannot read because think how limited they are in
their imaginations. To me, that's the main advantage of books.

Maguire: Do you think television has really captured the audience?

Hawkins: Well, I think it has to some extent. I think that there are just
two things now: there's outdoor sports and television, and many,
many children do not read because they substitute television. Of
course, I think parents are to blame for this. I see no excuse for
it. If a parent just simply locks the TV and says that at certain
times we will look at selective programs which is the way a TV
should be used anyway, not just turned on in the morning and just
going, going, going, going, going. Then, TV can be very useful.


Hawkins: But the idea of letting a child sit there from the time he's two years
old in front of the TV to say nothing of what the radiation might
be, which we do not know. Children don't sit back far enough; they're
very apt to come right up against the TV. They miss a lot. The
thing about a book is that you can pick it up at any time. You don't
have to wait for a certain hour for it to be there. Any time you
feel in the mood for it, there's the book. There's much more in the
book than you can get in a half hour or an hour on TV, no matter how
you slice it.

Right now, I'm doing a week's diary on TV for Nielsen centered
around this, and I said to them, "I'm sorry. I'd be glad to do it, but
I don't really look at TV a great deal."

The woman said, "That's all right. We want to know what you do
look at when you do."

There's a place for comment. I found out the first two days
that it was off until night. So I said, "I'm much too busy in the
daytime to look at television" and it's true, much too busy. Then
at night I just selected programs.

Many nights I've gone to look at TV, and I've looked at the
programs and they've been so dull, I've just gone to bed and taken
a book and read. I at least knew that if I had something that I was
reading, I knew what I was getting. And if I were reading something
I had already read before, it would be something I knew and enjoyed.

To me, nothing can take the place of a book. I have actually
been looking at TV and turned it off and got into bed and read a
book. I wanted to read. It spoke to me more. But a whole generation
of children are growing up where they've never had that feeling about
a book, and so the pleasures of reading are absent. They only know
the pleasures of the other.

I'm not denigrating TV; I think it has much to offer. It's
like going to the theater. You enjoy going to the theater a great
deal, but you wouldn't want to go to the theater from the morning
until night and see nothing but theater. And that's really what TV
is, to a large extent. It's theater.


Book Clubs

Maguire: Do you think that book clubs have affected bookstores?

Hawkins: Yes, I do think so. Book clubs have certainly made certain books
very popular. They've picked up one book, and it has much more
exposure than it might have had if it hadn't been chosen. I don't
think that it's added to the sales of the bookstores necessarily.
It might. If the book has been widely spoken about, then people
who didn't get the book in the book club would come in and might buy
it. Certainly, it might affect the readership in the libraries.

Maguire: Do you think that the stores are losing customers to these clubs?

Hawkins: I don't know. I really don't know. They certainly wouldn't be
buying those particular books from a bookstore.

Maguire: Would you say that the American Booksellers Association is an effective

Hawkins: It's a very effective organization. It's gotten bigger and bigger.
I haven't been to a Booksellers' meeting for a long time. I'm going
to speak at one this April. On the eighth of April I'm going to talk
on what it was like in the old days. [Laughs] So this is sort of a
preliminary, you might say.

Pleasures of Bookselling

Hawkins: The thing that seems to me different is that I had such joy in my

work. I enjoyed it so much. I just can't see how a person selling
books today could have the pleasure in selling that you had when you
would hear a customer come in and ask you, "I want a book for a boy
of eight years old."

"What is the boy like? Does he like sports? How well does he
read? What grade is he in?" Then you would go and pick out some
books you'd think that he might like, and you bring it to the customer
and let the customer look at these books, taking them in about three
at a time. Then if she didn't like those, you'd take them away and
bring three more out until you found one that was just right, always
keeping in mind the child that was involved. Now your customer might
not know what an eight year old would like, but you presumably should
because that's your job.


Hawkins: All right, now what happens? The customer comes in and says, "I
want a book for a child eight years old."

They say, "There are the books over there." So you go over
there and you look around, and if you don't know anything about books,
you may or may not get a book. Or you may get discouraged and leave.
If there aren't any clerks to wait on you, if the person is at the
cash register and can't leave and there's nobody else What fun is
it just sitting at a cash register? You might just as well be selling
at a register at a grocery store. What's the advantage? To me,
bookselling is an art.

In fact, we used to talk about that, whether a person would just
wrap up books or was a bookseller. There was a difference. Oh, well,
this person just wraps up books. If somebody comes in and asks for
such and such a book, he'll get it and give it to them and ring the
sale up. But that's not a bookseller; that's just a wrapper-upper.

This really is my feeling about modern bookstores. The ones
that do have personalized service, I think, are very much valued by
the customers who like to be waited on, and if they can find this
bookseller, they'll be their customers for life.

[end of tape 2, side 1; end of Interview V]

Transcribers: Teresa Allen, Marsha Maguire, Michelle Stafford
Final Typist: Cheryl Ishida


By Quail Hawkins


Androcles and the Lion. Retold from Apion by Quail Hawkins. New York: Coward-
McCann, 1970.

The Aunt-Sitter. New York: Holiday House, 1958.

The Best Birthday. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1954.

Don't Run, Applel New York: Holiday House, 1944.

Little Book of Prayers and Graces. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1952.
First published in 1941 under the title Prayers and Graces for Little Children.
Selected by Quail Hawkins. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1941.

Mark. Mark. Shut the Door! New York: Holiday House, 1947.
Mountain Courage. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957.
A Puppy for Keeps. New York: Holiday House, 1943.

A Singing Wind; Selected Poems of James Stephens. Edited and with an introduction
by Quail Hawkins. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

Too Many Dogs. New York: Holiday House, 1946.

Who Wants an Apple? New York: Holiday House, 1942.

With Victor von Hagen

Quetzal Quest. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939.

Treasure of the Tortoise Islands. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940,


By Quail Hawkins


"Book Fairs: the Librarian's Curse or Chance?" California School Libraries,
36, No. 4 (May 1965), 5-8.

"Bright is the Ring of Words." In Children, Books and Reading. Prepared by a
committee of the International Reading Association. Ed. Mildred Dawson.
Newark, Delaware, 1964. (Perspectives in Reading, No. 3)

"Children's Literature." In the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 1963.


INDEX ~ Quail Hawkins

ACL. See Association of Children's Librarians

ALA. See American Library Association

ASDC. See Associated Students of the University of California

Alice in Wonderland , 4

Alvarez, Walter, 20

American Booksellers' Association, 18, 143

American Library Association (ALA), 43, 51, 62, 79, 87, 92, 121

Androcles and the Lion, 115, 118

Annabella and the Christmas Baby, 116

Arbuthnot, May Hill, 121

Armer, Laura Adams, 132

Ashlock, Renee. See Kennedy, Renee Ash lock

Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) , 109

Association of Children's Librarians (ACL), 42, 61, 64

Atmore, Ede, 34, 65

The Aunt Sitter. 116, 118

authors, 79, 140

children's, 26, 60, 71, 77-79

speaking engagements, 26, 121

Baker and Taylor, 20, 28

Bechtel, Louise Seaman. See Seaman, Louise

Bell, Fern Wing, 58-59

Berkeley, California, 7, 13, 22, 37, 48

changes in, 1920s-1970s, 130-140
The Best Birthday, 116
Bible, 128
billing. See payment
Black Sheep (restaurant), 133-134
Blake, James, 18, 56
book clubs, 143

book fairs, 87. See also Sather Gate Book Shop
Book Week, 2, 6, 26-27, 68, 77, 79
books :

in the early 1920s, 4-5

selecting, 73-77. See also children's books
Books in Print, 93
Books Incorporated, 109
booksellers, 73, 140-14

as businessmen, 140

1960s-1970s, 73, 140-14

parties, 95-99

profit, 107. See also Hawkins, Quail



Bay Area, 109-110

1960s-1970s, 141, 14

Spokane, 3

"Bright is the Ring of Words," 121
British Museum, 71, 100
Brooks, Walter:

Freddy the Detective, 11
Buff, Mary and Conrad:

Dancing Cloud, 27

Bulletin f_ the Center for Children's Books , 61
Byleveldt, Anita, 66

Caldecott, Randolph, Medal, 43

California Library Association, 82, 87, 96

Carmack, Jesse, 57

Carrigher, Sally, 71

catalogs, 25, 27

Chase, Denny, 14, 57

children's books:

advising customers about, 48-49, 75-77

easy reading, 114

illustrated, 4, 27, 40, 43, 129

selecting, 41-42, 48-52, 69-70, 74, 89, 144-145

trends in publishing of, 17, 88-89, 127-130

writing, 111-120. See also Hawkins, Quail
children's department. See Sather Gate Book Shop
Christmas season, 11, 25, 29, 32, 34 60
deary, Beverly Bunn, 79
Collins, Mabel, 5, 7, 9
Combined Book Exhibit, 87
computers, 93-94, 100, 102, 106
Contra Costa County Library, 58
Corwin, Virginia, 106
cost-marking, 4-5, 24-26
customers, 11, 26, 48-49, 51-53, 65, 144

acquiring, 95, 98-99

libraries, 28, 92

public libraries, 25, 39, 88, 90
school libraries, 25, 39, 88-90

"Mrs. Pink Ink, " 13-14, 138-39. See also librarians; payment, wholesaling

Dahl, Roald:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 86
Dahlin, Thelma, 59
Darling, Esther Birdsall, 60
Darton, Frederick J. Harvey, 125-126


Darton, Harvey. See Darton, Frederick J. Harvey

Depression, 20, 31, 37-38

Desain, Clyde, 27

discounts, publishers', 26, 30, 101. See also Sather Gate Book Shop

display of books, 27, 40-41, 43. See also window display

Dobbie, Lucy, 82

Dr. Seuss, 114

Don't Run, Apple, 110-111

Doubleday, 5, 21, 113, 116, 118

"dummies," 62-63

ESEA. See Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Eaton, Anne:

Story of_ the Flame , 41

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), 88-89, 128
Emeryville warehouse, 30, 93, 105-106, 110, 139. See also Sather Gate Book

Shop; storage

Emporium (department store) , 125-126
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 125-126
Evans, Eloise, 15-16, 133
exhibits, 82, 87
Eyre, Katherine Wigmore:

Lottie's Valentine, 27

Fergusson, Harvey, 110-111

Fletcher, Inglis, 26, 77-78

Fletcher, Peggy. See Fletcher, Inglis

food prices, 1929-1940s, 38, 132-133, 135

Free Speech Movement, 137

Fruge, August, 81, 83

Fun j.n Bed, 23

Garrett, William, 23, 81-82

Garvey, Leone, 47

Ginn and Company, 8

Glen, Lenore. See Of ford, Lenore Glen

"The Gory Road," 131

Grabhorn, Ed and Jane, 72

Graham, John W. and Company, 2-3, 5-7, 9, 21, 24, 29, 37, 72-73

Grosset and Dunlap, 113

Hamilton, Elizabeth, 117-118
Hans Brinker, 118
Harcourt, Brace, 14, 117-118
Harper's, 18-19, 56,62


Hawkins, Quail:

attitudes toward

bookselling, 3-4, 47-48, 97, 107-108, 140-145

children's book publishing, 127-130

reading, 3-4, 75, 142

service to the customer, 55-56, 58-59, 91, 94-97

book fairs, 84-87

bookselling techniques, 4, 10-11, 47, 55-56, 63-64, 74

early work experience, 1-14

education, 7-8, 15-17

illness, 37-38, 125-126

librarians, childhood experiences with, 1-2

move to Berkeley, 7-8

retirement, 110-111

reviewing books, 42, 64, 68-70

speaking engagements, 42-43, 76, 97, 121-124

work with UC Press, 80-83

working in New York, 17-21

writing, 70-71, 111-120, 125-126

See also children's books; librarians; traveling, promotional
Hawthorne, Hildegarde, 26, 60
Hegerty, Anne, 23

Herbert, Catherine Jane, 22-23, 34, 46, 81
Hink's (department store), 44
Horn Book, 62

IBM, 102, 104, 106

International Reading Association, 121-122

inventory, 26, 30

Ireland, Lois, 106

Ivanhoe, 75

Ives, Vernon, 118

Jackson, Jacqueline:

Julie's Secret Sloth, 64
Jackson, Joseph Henry, 68-69, 71
Jackson, Joseph Henry, Mrs., 69, 71
Jencks, Sara, 11, 33, 84
Jewel Gardner Fund , 52
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 74
Jungle Book, 76
Junior Literary Guild, 63, 118

Kahn, Carolyn (Mrs. Fred), 33-35, 60

Kahn, Fred, 33, 38, 44, 60, 81, 84, 98, 107

Kennedy, Renee Ashlock, 33

Kirkus, Virginia, 18-19, 62. See also Virginia Kirkus Review

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