Peter Miller has run an architecture and design bookshop in Seattle for 35 years. Recently, he moved Peter Miller Books three blocks north, into the front space of the Suyama Peterson Deguchi Architecture Building.
A former member of the Seattle Design Commission and an honorary member of the AIA, Miller lives with his family in Langley, on Whidbey Island and takes the train into town every morning. In spring 2014, Abrams Books will publish his first cookbook, “Lunch at the Shop."
Valerie Easton: What books are open on your nightstand right now?
Peter Miller: My nightstand is skewed a bit. Now I have a cookbook to finish, I’m reading other people’s books about food, to see how and why and what they focus on. Some are well written, some are awful and some are clever — which is sort of in between. At the moment, I am reading a memoir by food editor Judith Jones, “The Tenth Muse, My Life in Food.” It’s so proper I am amused to have nearly finished it. At the end of it are recipes, six of which end with, “serve with a pitcher of heavy cream.”
You’re writing a cookbook?
A year ago I proposed to Abrams Books that they should publish a cookbook titled “Lunch at the Shop,” a collection of anecdotes and recipes from making lunch at this bookstore for ten years. And they accepted.
Have you found any cookbooks you admire?
The Canal House Cookbooks, from the restaurant in Lambertville, N.J., are impressive. “The Canal House Cooks Every Day” won the 2013 James Beard Foundation Award for general cooking.
Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
Perhaps it is the laptop that has made words type too quickly, but it is not, to my mind, a time of great books. Timely ones, but not great ones. The time will come again, but this is not it.
I have been reading paperbacks by Evelyn Waugh for example. Now, no one is likely to rush to Waugh, but if you can dig out time, he was a brilliant writer. I am trying to start “Lucky Jim” by Kingsley Amis, and everyone keeps saying how I will love it, but we have just moved the bookshop and my humor is probably too nicked to get the hang of it. I will try again deeper into the summer.
How many years was Peter Miller Books on First Avenue near the market? Why the move, and why now?
I was there for 25 years — my daughter was born the day after we moved in or I would have said 14 years. We moved because we had to. The corner was now too expensive. I wish we could have had a couple more years there — we were not recovered from the past three years of slowdown and fear — but it was not possible. George Suyama, from the architecture firm Suyama Peterson Deguchi asked that we move into his building. It is not as directly linked to foot traffic, but the space is wonderful — it is the proper place for us.
Do you read fiction as well as the design and architecture books you sell at the shop? Do you have a favorite novelist or two?
I was trained to read literature — which means I needed to learn to read for pleasure, for I was trained to probe, not enjoy. Once I finally learned how to combine the two, pleasure and probe, then a great waft of books came by — William Boyd, Le Carre, the Italian novelist Gianrico Carofiglio — that I would otherwise have never seen. Julian Barnes (“Sense of an Ending”) can really write.
For whatever reason, I have a habit of not wanting to know what is popular. So I had no idea that “Mr. Chartwell,” by Rebecca Hunt, was about a big dog and a woman falling in love in London. Reviewers grumbled that the book was a conceit — but if you shut up and simply read it, it was brilliant and true, and that is a lot.
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