BOOKSELLER SPOTLIGHT: Strand Book Store, An Interview With boice

For this post we caught up with boice, an author, singer/songwriter and a podcaster (who also happens to be an editor and submissions judge for 33 1/3!). He told us what it’s like to see books in the series go from proposal to bookshelf, customer favorites and the best thing about working at Strand.

Interview conducted by Jane Townsend.

What is your favorite 33 1/3?

My favorite is Elton John’s Blue Moves by Matthew Restall, which is one that I edited, and the reason why is because it’s recognized as one of the worst albums by Elton John. But the way Matthew tells you the history and how much he actually likes the album makes you excited about it too. So, as I was editing the book, I’m re listening to the songs and seeing the songs in a new way. And if a book can do that, that makes it one of my favorites. I think a lot of times people are drawn to the albums that they know, or are the best albums, and here’s something that wasn’t the best album, and acknowledges that this isn’t a classic Elton John album. Some of my favorites are the ones that give you a history of the album but also tell you why the author is excited about this album. This is what Matthew accomplishes in the book. It’s wonderfully written, and it was a pleasure to edit. 

What draws people to Strand and what’s your favorite part of working there?

I think it’s the atmosphere. You see people walk in and then it’s two hours later and they’re still here. It’s not just the books, it’s being in this building that has 96 plus years of history, and I think people feel that when they walk in. It’s three floors of books, and it’s a meeting place for people before they go out, it’s a way to kill time, but it never feels like you need to rush when you’re in here. No one’s giving you the side eye and telling you to leave. It’s somewhere to go if you just want to browse, we have every genre book that you could possibly want. 

For me, there’s this exhilaration and rush of adrenaline when it’s busy, and I enjoy that. And I think when you enjoy it people feel that, so they walk away feeling good. So, even if we don’t have a book, I’m not just saying “yeah, we don’t have that”, it’s more like “oh I’m sorry we don’t have that, maybe we can order it” – that type of thing. So, people walk away not feeling too deflated – you know, you try to make people feel a little better if you can’t find the book. 

As an external advisor for the series, what’s it like to see books go from being a proposal to on the shelf at Strand?

It is exciting, because I see them as a proposal, and then once I put forward my recommendations, they’ll ask you if there is a book that you’d like to possibly edit. It’s particularly nice when you edit a book that you chose to run the proposal and eventually see that book at Strand, because you’ve formed this mini relationship with the author. Prior to editing them, I like to have a brief talk with the author, ask if there are points they believe they’re weak in, or want a fresh eye on, and get to know them a little. And then seeing their book after the fact is exciting because it’s something that you’re a part of. And you see the parts of the book that were fixed and worked on. It’s nice to have that personal connection to a book that you see on the shelf.  

How do customers react to the series? Which books are they most attracted to?

They’re usually shocked when we say, “oh well we have a whole table.” Especially if you’re in the basement, where the display is, and you take them to the table. You can just leave them there and there’s titles that they didn’t even know had been published. And that’s when people really seem impressed – I mean it makes sense, it’s almost 200 titles. People do ask for specific ones – usually not Blue Moves, but Björk is a popular one, and the Radiohead one. They’re usually asking for the classic albums – or maybe the first album that you listen to of the canon of someone’s work. 

What book deserves more attention?

Black Diamond Queens was published in 2020 and is a great book on African American women in rock and roll. It goes from people like Big Mama Thornton, Betty Davis, Labelle and all the way to Tina Turner, who is on the cover. It’s the history you don’t hear about black women in rock. Bob Dylan is using black back-up singers because he wanted this specific sound and Merry Clayton is singing the Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter,” and we don’t even know the names of some of these women, but they were so integral to this sound. This book by Maureen Mahon covers this whole period from the 50s to the 80s, so if someone wants something nonfiction, this is a fantastic book.  

Many books in the series explore well-received albums – what’s the role of revisiting this praise years later?

I think some stuff you would think there would be tons of books on, but there’s not. Like Björk, there’s not a ton of books on Björk despite her importance in music. For a lot of classic albums there may not be a lot of scholarship on them, so I think the revisiting is good because that may be the only book out there. Like J Dilla’s Donuts, before Dan Charnas wrote Dilla Time last year the 33 1/3 book was the only Dilla book you could get. I think it’s good to have the revisiting because there may not be that much written about that album or that artist, even though they are very popular. Like Public Enemy, there aren’t a ton of books. 33 1/3 often fills that gap. 

boice is an author, singer/songwriter and a podcaster. Last year he released his third album, Nevermind the Hardships, a song cycle about overcoming his relationship with his narcissistic mother. boice is also the host and producer of Talk Music Talk, a music interview podcast featuring over 200 longform conversations with people connected to music. He was also the original host and creator of Strand Bookstore’s official podcast, The StrandCast. He’s published three books of fiction and is the editor of Coloring Book: An Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multicultural Writers, which was praised by Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked. He’s currently an editor and submissions judge for 33 1/3’s series of short books about albums. 

The Strand carries over 2.5 million used, new, and rare books, covering topics as far-ranging as occult to philosophy to finance. The store also offers an ever-changing array of literary gifts and goods from Moleskines to coffee mugs, and everything in-between. Really, we mean everything in-between, from a Shakespeare insult mug to the wildly popular Strand onesie.

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