Booksellers of Boston: Papercuts J.P.
5 Green Street
Boston, MA 02130
An interview with Kate Layte, owner
What was your inspiration for opening an independent bookstore?
Honestly, I woke up one day three years ago and had it in my head that I could open my very own bookstore in my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. I wrote it down and the idea stayed with me and made me so excited that I decided to turn it into a real goal. I spent two years working a timeline for how to make it happen—learning everything I could—dreaming up everything I wanted it to be. I also read like crazy—I highly recommend Pamela Slim’s Escape From Cubicle Nation to anyone thinking about quitting their job and starting a business.
Last fall, the publishing company I was working for (Little, Brown) was moving offices, and I felt like with the momentum of that move, I could make a big change in my life, too. I found a small space for rent at 5 Green Street and called the number on the door. I put in my notice at the publishing company the next day, and with the help of a handful of the best people in the world, we opened a bookstore!
What’s your favorite part of the job?
When someone asks open-endedly, “Could you recommend me something?” I then counter and ask them a few probing questions. More than anything, I enjoy listening to the needs of a reader and to match my knowledge of the books I’ve picked for my store with their need. It’s an alchemy of sorts—but when that reader comes back and thanks me a few weeks later? There isn’t a better feeling in the world.
What makes Papercuts J.P. unique?
Come inside and you tell me. It was built from my imagination, hard work, the support of a community that wanted a bookstore. I’m especially proud of my inventory. I had been obsessively collecting lists of my favorite books and asked my publishing friends to provide some of their favorite books in order to build a quality selection of books. I really do want to read almost every single book in my store and am so happy to hear when others feel the same way.
What changes in the industry have you noticed?
It’s easier to publish now more than ever. I learned a few weeks ago that there were over 300,000 books published just in 2015. That’s just mad. There are over six million books in print. Although we have access to more titles now than ever, digital discovery is a difficult thing. I’m not sure how many people realize that the books that are being pushed in newsletters and advertisements are paid for. I get it—but I also think it leaves a lot of great books out to die lonely deaths.
Do we all really want to be reading the same thing or do you think it would be beneficial to be reading all sorts of things and having different perspectives? I strongly believe the latter. I worry that people are afraid to read things they haven’t read a good review of. Reading a book you don’t know anything about is a safe risk to take—it’s OK. Go ahead. I hardly ever read reviews; they’re just one person’s opinion and they sure as hell aren’t me.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I hesitate about the word kind as I’m a very anti-genre type of gal. I read about things that interest me or look like a damn good story. I enjoy biographies about intelligent, complicated women—like Margaret Fuller and Viv Albertine. I enjoy great fiction—I just read this astounding book called Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson published by Other Press that caught my eye with a gorgeous, arctic cover and quotes from both James Salter and Philip Pullman. I’m still far too tempted by fiction to read equal amounts of nonfiction, but I’m trying. I love the essays of Rebecca Solnit and I recently discovered Joanna Walsh. Her book Hotel (part of the beautiful Bloomsbury Object series) is some damn good writing.
Is there a type of question you get from customers that you struggle to answer?
I do my best to answer every question I get, but the hardest are from folks who are buying books for people they don’t know that well. I think for a book to make a perfect gift, you need to have some key insights into their personality—what inspires them and what types of things they’ve previously enjoyed.
Name three books on your nightstand right now.
Right now there are about thirty books on my nightstand that I’m in the midst of. I’ll name a few more than three:
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Arms: the Culture and Credo of the Gun by A.J. Somerset
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Debris: Stories by Kevin Hardcastle
The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova
By the Book by Diane Schoemperlen
Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit
How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry
Plant Kingdom—Design with Plant Aesthetics published by Sendpoints/Untamed Graphics
On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
What book do you think deserves more attention than it gets?
Loren Eiseley’s The Invisible Pyramid.
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