This month in City of Readers we're featuring Portland's first book publican, Elise Schumock, owner of the Rose City Book Pub.
Where are you from originally?
NE Portland, Oregon
Last book you loved:
by Wendy Gordon. It’s about suburban discontent in the 1980s, a lot like Revolutionary Road
with compelling, fully developed characters.
Describe your first memorable reading experience.
The first book I read entirely on my own was Popcorn
by Frank Asch. This bear accidentally makes so much popcorn it fills his whole house and he had no choice but to eat it all. It tapped into so many concerns of childhood: making a mistake you didn’t see coming, trying to solve problems that are way outside of your ability, and having a food you love in abundance.
I spent a lot of time in the library at Sabin Elementary. My librarian was Mrs. Frye, who passed away last spring. At the book pub, just a few blocks from my old school, I named a rocking chair in her honor. In first grade I spent an afternoon each week at the library, sometimes reading and sometimes working on my first research project, a report about pandas. She taught me how to take notes on note cards and how to write an outline. The final report was in the shape of a panda, which was definitely her idea because I was too serious of a child to suggest that.
When I was old enough to stay home in the summer, I used to walk down to the Hollywood Library and check out 21 books. My mom worked in Hollywood, so I would walk the 2 blocks to her office, chuck most of the books through the sunroof in her car, and take just a few home for the day.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
I read a lot of different styles of books, and I only need one of my criteria to be met to call a book “good,” although meeting more than one criterion makes for a better book. I look for compelling characters, an interesting story, evocative descriptions, epiphanies or moments of recognition, a purpose, or information.
There’s something comforting and inspiring and hopeful about walls of books.
Were there any books you hid from your parents?
My sister and I found The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart
by Robert T. Westbrook on our parents’ shelves. We read that book together in total secrecy. That’s the only book I felt I needed to hide from my parents, but I read secretly after bedtime a lot.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
It’s really convenient to buy something specific online, but people still like to visit with books in person when they’re picking something to read and they don’t have anything particular in mind. And even though we can get books online, a lot of people still prefer to read longer works and fiction on paper. There’s something about being a book person that makes us want to be surrounded by the artifacts after we’ve read them or before we have the chance to read them, and it’s not the same just to have a list in a machine. A lot of people come to the Book Pub because they get to be around books even if they’re not shopping for books, so there’s something comforting and inspiring and hopeful about walls of books.
What’s one book you’ll never part with?
When I was deciding which books from my collection to sell in my bookstore, it turned out I wasn’t as sentimental about most of my books as I thought I would be. The books I wasn’t willing to put up for sale were mostly my books from childhood, books I had written a lot of notes in, and books I had received as gifts for particular achievements. I trust that by owning a used bookstore the important books will come back to me. Among the books I didn’t consider selling were the Pippi Longstocking
books, the Ramona
books, The Color Kittens
, Nurse Nancy
, Cat and Mouse
by Günter Grass (inscribed by my dad for high school graduation), and Simone de Beauvoir
’s memoirs (marked by personal notes and reflections).
Name an author you think everyone should read, and a good book with which to start.
Simone de Beauvoir. Everyone should read her series of memoirs, beginning with Memoir of a Dutiful Daughter
. Anyone who has lost a parent or is facing that loss soon, particularly if the relationship with that parent is complicated, should read A Very Easy Death
Do you collect any particular types of books?
Mostly literary fiction, memoirs, and popular nonfiction.
What do you do when you’re not reading?
I just opened a bookstore/bar, so I mostly work and sleep. I like to hang out at bars, usually either my own or The Moon and Sixpence. I like to knit and crochet while I watch TV and movies, and I do some other crafts. I really love getting dinner with friends. I collected all of my interests and turned them into the Book Pub.
What do you love about Portland?
I love Portland because it’s small enough to have a sense of community but big enough to support the cultural offerings of a city. I lived in Los Angeles for a long time, and it was too big. There were great events and fantastic restaurants, but they were often 20 miles away. Since Portland is compact, it feels more like we’re having a shared experience here, and I think that’s part of what adds to the spirit of community.
What is your favorite spot in Portland?
The place I’m drawn to the most is 42nd Street Station in Hollywood. I worked there in high school at a candy store that isn’t there anymore, and I got to be a part of the community of that building. I took my nieces there almost every day in the summers to play cards and talk and meet the neighbors at Aunt Tillie’s Deli. It’s a piece of the old neighborhood before it got fancy, and somehow there is still room for it even though everything is changing nearby. People there have deep roots and a special connection with each other even if they have never been to each other’s homes and don’t know each other’s last names.
Name a guilty pleasure.
Christmas movies. I’ll watch any movie containing any reference to Christmas, even if everything else about the movie is something I would normally specifically avoid.
What did you do before you opened Rose City Book Pub?
Most recently I was a private tutor and homeschool teacher in Los Angeles. I was mostly a Latin tutor, but I also supported students in other subjects and worked with students who were unable to attend school for medical reasons. Before that I taught Latin and Greek in Santa Monica. I really loved teaching, and I still do a little tutoring over the phone, but I’m also really enjoying my new adventure, especially since I got to come back home where I belong.