Al Gore, Courtney Love, and Lemmony Snicket have at least one thing in common. They have recently had events at Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera. Why? “We’re a sure thing—our customers will buy their books,” says cofounder Elaine Petrocelli. In 30 years of running Book Passage, Petrocelli and her husband/business partner, Bill, have enhanced Marin’s literary community—as booksellers; through Book Passage University where writers have been edified, inspired and motivated to become published, and as community supporters. A recent event with Barack Obama netted the Marin Education Fund approximately $30,000, the Book Passage anniversary extravaganza benefited the Marin Literacy Program, and to show compassion beyond Marin, Amy Tan, a Book Passage regular, rallied fellow authors Isabel Allende, Khaled Hoisseni, and Dave Eggers, among others, to raise over $40,000 days after hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. In a typical week, Book Passage will host between one and four author readings a day. Petrocelli plans and attends events, gives speeches, and appears on radio and TV, all while running the day-to-day business. How does she do it? “I don’t do any of this alone,” she says. “We are all passionate about books here, which makes it a pleasure to come to work every day.” Speaking of coming to work, one can’t help but wonder how this independent bookstore will fare given the big-name media retailer opening in a nearby mall. “It’s up to the community,” she says with a smile. “I think that Marin is unique, and our customers are showing us that they want us to be here.”
You could live anywhere. Why Marin? We raised our four children here. I love the natural beauty and the people. This is one of the few places that hasn’t been totally ruined by big box stores.
What makes you happy in Marin? When I walk out of my little office to the Book Passage patio, see customers and authors who have become friends and look up at Mount Tam, I realize how lucky I am.
What gets on your nerves here? Traffic! Traffic! Traffic!
What’s your personal idea of luxury? A great novel and a rainy day to read it without interruption.
What do you value every day? I feel lucky to have a wonderful family, 75 colleagues at Book Passage who are wild about books and a community that values what we do.
What person has influenced you the most? My grandmother lived with us when I was a teenager. She had always worked, yet she had a life filled with good friends and family. The night before she died, she told me to marry Bill, and that’s the best advice I’ve ever taken.
What’s been the most fulfilling moment in your work? I love it when people who have been students in our classes and conferences write to tell me about becoming published. We recently celebrated our 30th anniversary and over 30 authors spoke about the influence Book Passage had on their careers. That was fulfilling.
What’s a Marin stereotype that works? People joke about Marin as a hotbed of experimentation. Actually it’s true, but not in the way our critics portray us. We are open to new ideas and that’s part of what makes Marin such a perfect place for creative people to live and work.
What’s your desert island book or album? I’d take House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende. I love all her books, but this one changed my way of thinking about storytelling.
Do you have a favorite Marin view? My favorite view is from high on Mount Tam. I like it best when the fog is crawling over the top of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. It looks like an illustration for a fairy tale.
How do you want to be remembered? I hope my grandchildren remember me as the Nonna who read to them, played with them and unconditionally loved them. As for my work, if Book Passage continues to be an important part of Marin, that will be a great way to be remembered.
Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.