Thinking About Cody’s

I suppose it is time to say something about Cody’s. I haven’t said very much about it, except to my wife, Leslie. And it seems to make her uneasy when I do.

Cody’s closed its doors on June 20, 2008. I wasn’t there that day. I hadn’t been working there since December of the previous year. I had sold Cody’s to Hiroshi Kagawa of Tokyo in 2006. Hiroshi was head of  Yohan, Inc. It was the largest distributor of English language books in Japan. We wouldn’t have been able to stay open otherwise. We had run out of money. Anyway, I liked Hiroshi. And he made a pretty good stab at  putting Cody’s back on its feet again.

I kept running the store for another year. But financial concerns crept back  to plague the company. The store was unraveling. And I just couldn’t put it back together again. So I left  and with relief. I didn’t know exactly what I would do next. Given my experience of being a bookseller my whole adult life, I believed my future lay in something like sacking groceries at Safeway.

One night in January, I woke up and realized that I might be good  literary agent. You know, try my hand at the other end of the publishing food chain. I jumped into it. I managed not to think of how audacious that decision was and how little I knew about what I intended to do. It’s hard starting out again when you are 60. Particularly if you had done the same work at the same company for 30 years.  I know a lot more now, and I think I might even be good at this job. I certainly enjoy doing it every day. I only wish I had started my agency sooner. And I still have a lot to learn. I’m very grateful to the other agents who have been so generous with their time and wisdom.

About the time Cody’s closed, Alex Beckstead began showing his documentary: Paperback Dreams  .   The movie was  aired last fall in multiple national markets on PBS television.  Alex spent 2 years filming Paperback Dreams. It was about the struggles of Cody’s and Kepler’s to stay alive in hard times. He wasn’t expecting to document the demise of my store. But that was exactly what he did. It was hard for me to watch this movie. Alex kept dragging me out to public showings. Once I cried. Then I stopped going. I felt that the movie managed to document every mistake I made for several years. Leslie told me that I was being hard on myself and  that no one else saw it that way. Alex agreed. But it didn’t make it easier to watch the movie.

Even though I wasn’t working at the store when Cody’s closed, I really went into a tail spin after it happened. I developed classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The weirdest thing that happened is that I began to feel like the last 30 years of my life didn’t really happen. It wasn’t quite amnesia. It was more like it had been a dream. No, actually,  more like a dream of a dream.

I found  that when I drove to Berkeley, I always tried to avoid  going up Telegraph Avenue. And to this day, I can’t go to Union Square.

But recently, I have found that I’m okay  thinking  about all those years again. After all, here I am writing about it.  There were a lot of things that caused the store to close. Things that probably had very little to do with me.  But more than that, I’m starting to realize that we did some pretty good things over the years. And I have a lot to be proud of. And so does everyone who worked there.

People stop me on the street all the time and tell me how much Cody’s meant to them and how important it was in their lives or even how it changed their lives. That makes me feel pretty good.

When Cody’s closed its doors for the last time, they put up a sign that said: “Cody’s is closed. Thank you”. It wasn’t a very eloquent farewell. But to be fair to the folks who worked there, I doubt there was much  time to think about being eloquent. These closings are usually pretty messy affairs.

I wanted to say something though. I wanted to say what Cody’s really meant to me and  what it meant to so many other people. I wanted to summarize 50 years in just a few words. So I wrote this:

On June 20 Cody’s Books  closed its doors forever. People will argue the causes of Cody’s closing. But I have no doubts on this matter. Cody’s was the victim of history.

 

But it is less significant how one dies than how one lives. In this respect, Cody’s acquitted itself with honor and dignity.  At the end of the day,  when the record is written; it will be remembered that Cody’s added immeasurably to the life of the mind; that it  profoundly enriched people’s lives; that it gave back more than it took; and that it was obedient to its own ideals.

 

The doors close. The lights go out. The steadfast and courageous employees move on to new lives. Other book  stores will come to serve Cody’s customers. But there will always be a place in our hearts for Cody’s. And it will  serve as an inspiration for those who seek a better world.

 

Good bye, Cody’s and good night. You have earned your rest.

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9 Responses to “Thinking About Cody’s”

  1. Melissa Says:

    Yes, PTSD for sure. And I was only a worker at Cody’s for seven years. But I did sort of “grow up” there.

    I certainly am relieved that you are not bagging my groceries! And the decline and fall of the intellect (as witnessed in the decline in literacy, reading, indy bookstores) is hardly your fault.

  2. Praveen Says:

    A difficult topic, but very beautifully expressed. The literary community and culture that Cody’s helped to build is still active and alive. There was a lot more to Cody’s than the retail storefront. Your impact on the community will continue to be felt for years to come.

  3. Ilana D. Says:

    Cody’s was the first “big” bookstore I ever visited, other than the wonderful Barnes & Noble sales annex in NYC where I grew up (back in the 70s before B&N was a chain).

    I had been used to small neighborhood bookstores. Even great stores like Wordsworth in Harvard Square, where I went to college, were relatively small. But Cody’s seemed enormous! You could wander through its aisles and find almost anything. It was like a city of books, with lots of different neighborhoods. I remember the immense selection of Passover haggadot — at one point, I bought a half dozen and cribbed from them all to create our own personal haggadah. It felt like any book in the world that you were looking for could be found at Cody’s.

    In that sense, Cody’s was a forerunner of the B&N chain stores or Amazon. It felt like the original “book superstore” to me.

  4. Sarah Smith Says:

    I cried when I heard the news. Cody’s was more than a bookstore; it was a world of book lovers. For a new young author, seeing my book at Cody’s was a sign that I had a place in a world I loved.

    Cody’s was truly one of the great bookstores.

    I’m glad you’re bringing some of that spirit to your clients and onto the Internet, Andy.

  5. Joan Fischer Says:

    Thank you for your honesty. Your piece moved me to think about other “victims of history.” No shortage of those in the print industry.

  6. Joan Fischer Says:

    p.s., a reflection on your piece at: http://www.madisonwritersnetwork.org/

  7. Joan Fischer Says:

    p.s., a reflection on your piece at http://www.madisonwritersnetwork.org/.

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