Jonathan Sanchez is one who stands pat. Jonathan Sanchez is a maverick. How can he be both at the same time? By operating a traditional bookshop.
The owner of Blue Bicycle Books on King Street is a believer in the written word and everything he does is a form of evangelism. He sells books, writes stories and organizes author events.
Six years ago, he helped start YALLFest, the popular young adult book festival that draws around 100 authors and thousands of readers to the Holy City each fall. It's the biggest event of its kind.
Sanchez, 43, grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Yale University with a bachelor's in English and married an interior designer with whom he has two children who attend James Simons Montessori. He took charge of Boomer's Books in 2007 and renamed it Blue Bicycle Books.
The Post and Courier asked him about his literary life.
Q: In a way, you are the definition of retro. Operating a bricks-and-mortar bookshop is so old school. It’s also a big challenge in the day and age of e-commerce. Why is Blue Bicycle Books successful?
A: People like to shop, and most people like reading paper books. And they like to have shelves full of handsome books. I think the election has shown what outrageous extremes some people will go to in search of the authentic (or at least what's hyped as authentic).
Q: Your focus on local and regional writers, and on organizing/hosting events, has resulted in two big programs, the Author Lunch Series and YALLFest. Both provide readers a chance to meet authors. How do such encounters enrich the literary experience?
A: It's about the story. The trend at restaurants is to tell you who harvested your lettuce and who wrangled the hog you're eating. You can hold up your copy of "Deep Run Roots" and say: "I stood in line for three hours to get this signed by Vivian Howard. She was even cooler in person than on TV."
Q: YALLFest has become a true phenomenon, and after six years, you’ve started a sister festival in Santa Monica called YALLWest. What were the origins of this event? Did you ever imagine it would become THE young adult book festival in the nation?
A: I think we knew we might have a hit on our hands pretty early. Charleston is a draw for the authors, which is key. As opposed to just another stop on the tour, they get to stay downtown and go to a VIP party at a historic home or the Library Society. The same goes for the fans who get to hang out on Upper King Street and see an all-star roster of writers.
Q: Do you have any time to write? If so, what are you working on? If not, do you miss it?
A: The bookstore and then the festival have made it very challenging. It's hard for me to spend a couple hours writing at a coffee shop in the morning and then go switch gears into business mode. I have written a few short pieces for anthologies that I'm proud of, one on Pat Conroy from a bookselling angle, and one on the shag clubs of North Myrtle Beach; hopefully we'll see those published this year. I've been working for nine years now on a YA novel set in Charleston and Orlando but can't seem to get traction with an agent. I have to say, my friends and acquaintances are still very kind and encouraging. It's a book and has characters that are dear to me but personally, at this point, I'm "at sea," to use a bit of crossword-ese.
Q: What three books would you absolutely take to a desert island, and why?
A: The practical answer is the Bible and Shakespeare, which would last me a very long time. It's disappointing that the Bible is not taught in the schools. I'm a big supporter of the separation of church and state but that shouldn't come at the cost of such a significant work of wisdom and writing. Short answer: "Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris, "Anna Karenina" (which I've been reading for four years anyway) and that other great "Anna" book: "Scrappy Little Nobody" by Anna Kendrick. That's right. How many other bookstore owners put Anna Kendrick on their desert island list? Don't you think she should come to Charleston for a signing?