Since I left college 7,000 years ago I've often longed to go back and attend the classes I missed out on or didn't pay attention to due to an overriding desire to master the art of Frisbee. I've wished I had more time to sit in a cafe with some well-read, friendly people, discussing modern literature, history, science, art, and current events. I've wanted to learn a new language, or to discover some new interest, like cooking, or Italian—or finally get a handle on modern poetry.
Now I work at Book Passage, a store that features fascinating author events every day. Some are great novelists; others, prominent activists, historians, journalists, and biographers. Some of the world’s top chefs have spoken (and cooked) for us. There are renowned children’s authors, doctors, psychologists, naturalists, celebrities, artists . . . the list is endless.
Included among the people Book Passage has hosted in just the last few months are Junot Diaz, Ina Garten, Naomi Wolf, Martin Amis, Michael Chabon, Salmon Rushdie, Louise Erdrich, J. R. Moehringer, Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, Simon Winchester, Jon Meachum, David Brooks, Anne Lamott, Harold Kushner, Emma Donahue, Hubert Keller, Captain Sully, Gavin Newson, Cecil Williams, and Dav Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants books.
The vast majority of these occasions are free; we certainly want you to buy a book, and so does the author. I would urge you to do so, because you will be supporting authors, bookstores, publishers, and the written word, which is good for everyone. But in most cases there is no requirement that you buy a book; you can just listen.
And then there are Book Passage's classes: sitting in my office I often overhear people learning Spanish, French, or Italian. I am beginning to pick up a smattering of various languages just by being in the vicinity of our many wonderful teachers. (“Buenos días, mademoiselle! Come stai?”) People take classes at Book Passage to discover a career, to learn new parenting strategies, to explore their spiritual side, for tips on traveling the world, and to become better writers and get published.
In addition to the writing classes, each summer Book Passage has three extraordinary writing conferences: one for travel writers and photographers, one for mystery writers, and one for children’s book writers and illustrators. These conferences feature top publishing editors, agents, and authors. They are chock full of information for any writer seeking to get published. Often the pros say they learn as much as they impart, and many important relationships have begun in those very special few days at Book Passage.
The author events, classes, and our three writers conferences are the most noticeable ways one can learn at Book Passage. But I learn the most from my colleagues. From the newest bookseller to the most seasoned, these folks know and love books, and they are happy to share their passion and knowledge with you. I often find myself standing with a group at the counter, engaged in discussions about an author, book, or subject that is in the air. These interactions keep me in the know in a way that sitting alone at home with a computer screen can never do.
Sam Barry is the marketing director at Book Passage. Email him at email@example.com.