Gary Luke’s first job in publishing was delivering the Seattle Times in his Mount Baker neighborhood. He graduated with a BA in English from Western Washington University, and went on to edit books for Simon & Schuster and other New York publishers. Luke is now president and publisher of Sasquatch Books, working with authors like Greg Atkinson, Nancy Pearl and Lynda Barry.
Valerie Easton: What books are on your nightstand right now?
Gary Luke: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz; Canada by Richard Ford; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin; Averno by Louise Gluck.
Any book you’ve read lately that really caught your imagination, inspired you, or changed how you look at the world?
I’d say This is How You Lose Her, because it immersed me in a point of view on being in the world that’s arrestingly different from what I know day to day, and it’s funny and sad. And the main character’s name is Yunior!
Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
This isn’t so lately, but Sea of Poppies, a novel by Amitav Ghosh, is at the top of my list. Set in the 1830s in India during the height of the opium trade, it’s a story of culture clash, class, race, destiny, adventure and love, involving British and American merchants, Indian aristocracy, seamen and the lowest of the caste system. It is actually the first of a trilogy, and the second book is out, River of Smoke. Frankly, I didn’t love it. But I wish everyone would read Sea of Poppies.
It sounds like you’re into reading fiction – are you ever tempted to publish novels at Sasquatch?
You need a whole country, if not the entire continent of North America, to give a literary novel a shot at working. Sasquatch is a regional publisher. Editing fiction takes an expertise I’m not sure we have.
What does regional publishing mean in this era of globalization?
We’re like a Farmer’s Market…..our stuff is locally grown and that makes a difference.
How long have you been publishing books at Sasquatch? Has that enriched your own reading life?
I’ve been at Sasquatch for more than two dog years! Regional publishing is close to my personal interests, so my interaction with the content of the books is immediate and practical. For example, I’ve been the lucky recipient of an education in the culinary arts by reading the excellent writing of authors like Becky Selengut (Good Fish) and Greg Atkinson (At the Kitchen Table).
Do you have a favorite book or author you’ve published over the years? Why?
David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work by Jack Nisbet is a recent favorite because it shrinks time by connecting the work of a 19th century botanist in the Pacific Northwest to the here and now of our region.
But publishers are like sharks, always moving forward. So I’m compelled to add that I’m loving the manuscript by Sandi Doughton for a book about earthquakes in our region entitled Full Rip 9.0, which we’ll publish next May.
You published the Book Lust series by Nancy Pearl. Why has it been so popular, do you think, and how many copies have you sold?
A ballpark number for sales on all the Book Lusts is about a quarter million. Nancy had a great platform; she’s loved here in the city and she got going on NPR. When a librarian recommends a book, it’s not like a book critic. Nancy’s objective is matching the right book to the right reader and that point of view is unique. She defied all normal categorization of books and came up with fresh groupings that reframed the significance of the books. People stood up and took notice.
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