Book City: Sasquatch Books head on why the company won't touch fiction

Sasquatch Books' Gary Luke gobbles up fiction like it's his job. But it's not. Why Sasquatch wouldn't touch fiction with a ten-foot pole.
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Gary Luke, publisher of Sasquatch Books

Sasquatch Books' Gary Luke gobbles up fiction like it's his job. But it's not. Why Sasquatch wouldn't touch fiction with a ten-foot pole.

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.

What were your most cherished books when you were a child? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

I read and reread The Cat in the Hat. The whole idea of kids making an unholy mess at home was terribly exciting and forbidden for me. Now, as an adult I have a Cat-in-the-Hat mess on my desk (as you have seen).

Can you think of a particularly powerful passage from a book that’s stuck with you? That you return to?

The first sentence of Scott Spencer’s Endless Love (do not confuse this great novel with that crap movie). It’s a wonderfully evocative description of a decisive moment in a character’s life, and that’s one of the things we love about good novels.

Do you have a favorite genre?

Is there a category called Business Tragedy? If yes, The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald are at the top of that list.

Do you tend to buy books, get them from the library? Download them? How long is your library queue?

All of the above. But lately I’ve been making a point to buy as many physical books as I can. If you’re impatient and have a short attention span, waiting for library books to become available doesn’t always work. If it’s something I want to flip through, that’s an ebook purchase. If it’s a read and savor, I get the pbook.

Are you a fast or slow reader? Do you write in the margins/take notes?

Slow. When I was in 3rd grade, my mother wondered if I was ever going to learn how to read. I don’t underline or take notes, unless it’s a manuscript.

When and where do you settle down to read?

Bus, sofa, bed, feet on my desk at work (where I’m paid to read).

Do you read poetry? Any favorite poets?

The Prelude by William Wordsworth is one of the great works of poetry. I don’t read much poetry, although I enjoy having it read to me. That said, a recent review of Louise Gluck’s collected works inspired me to get her 2007 collection Averno.

Is there a book you rely on to cheer yourself up/ comfort yourself?

When I need comfort or cheering, I talk to my wife or go on a hike or go fly fishing.

What book do you plan to read next?

Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs (a former Sasquatch author, I might add).

Do books as we know them have a future?

The book is not going away. Less than a hundred years ago, there were only hardcover editions. Then Penguin popularized the mass market paperback. In the 1950s the trade paperback was introduced. I think e-books are one alternate format among several.

Certain categories may see a shift away from paper books to electronic (romance novels, mysteries, sci-fi). And e-books will allow the continued availability of older and obscure titles. Some books will get more beautiful, as design elements become a way of distinguishing physical books from electrons.

But if you love ink and paper books, vote with your credit card. We are lucky to have such great bookstores in our midst and must not take them for granted.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.