Matthew Wagstaffe   |   writing   editorial   exhibitions   |   info



Bookstore Designs

When Larry McMurtry (alongside Diana Ossana) received the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2006, he made sure, in his thank you speech, to single out a group of people that typically don’t receive much recognition on Hollywood’s glitziest stage: booksellers. “Remember,” he told the audience, “that Brokeback Mountain was a book before it was a movie. From the humblest paperback exchange to the masters of the great bookshops of the world, all [booksellers] are contributors to the survival of the culture of the book—a wonderful culture which we mustn’t lose.”

As a former bookseller, I, of course, loved McMurtry’s speech. I loved it, however, not for its simple book-aggrandizement—any fool can make a pat endorsement of the value of literature—but for its accuracy: there is something fundamentally true to his description of bookselling as a practice that is engaged in the business of keeping a culture alive. It captures, contrariwise to conventional understandings of bookstores as sleepy places for quiet reading, the radical activeness of bookselling. Yes, booksell- ers sometimes read at bookstores (if they are lucky), but they also debate and argue and rip price tags off books for returns, they scramble to the receiving door to let in the UPS guy before he goes to his next delivery, they clean a customer’s spilled coffee and then recommend that same customer a book, they fend off an angry phone-caller, they tease their co-worker and steal a soda from the cafe, they drink so much coffee that their heart flutters and then they use the caffeine and the palpitations to rapidly shelve books, they still have to hum the alphabet to themselves when they do so, but most of the time they know the location of an author’s oeuvre by muscle memory, of course, good luck getting to the shelving destination through the rush of customers that crowd the place on a Saturday afternoon. And this is just one shift.

As a bookseller at McNally Jackson for five years, I did all of the above, alongside specialized duties as a designer and window-dresser. I made the store’s event posters, its in-store displays, its website logos and its windows. The pace was very fast and the work was often stressful (McNally Jackson is no “humble paperback exchange”). But it was just as often fun. This page gathers together some of the graphic design work I produced during my time there. While I value some of these pieces for their design attributes, above all I am proud that they have contributed to the survival of the culture of the book. It is, as McMurtry says, a “wonderful culture” indeed.

Event Posters

Display Signs

Window Dressing