Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Thatcher Wine who’s the coauthor, with Elizabeth Lane, of For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library. Thatcher is the founder of Juniper Books, a company that works with book lovers, homeowners, and designers to create custom libraries. A graduate of Dartmouth College with a degree in history and art history, Thatcher lives in Boulder, Colorado. Although, he’s originally from New York.

Welcome, Thatcher. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Thatcher Wine: Thanks so much for having me here.

Zibby: This is perfect because you’re probably a bigger, if not as big a book lover as me, so this is such a pleasure to talk to somebody who shares this passion for books. Your book, For the Love of Books, let’s talk about it. What’s it about?

Thatcher: It’s For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library. It’s all about books. It’s for book lovers by a book lover. It’s all about both collecting books in your home for their content as well as their beauty and displaying them in a way that really reflects who you are.

Zibby: Tell me about founding Juniper Books, which is the company that you founded eighteen years ago and you still run. You were in the midst of this e-revolution of Kindle and all this stuff. People were predicting the end of books altogether. Here you were starting your own publishing imprint, essentially. Tell me about that whole experience.

Thatcher: I never set out to start a book business. Even when I started selling books, I didn’t consider it to be a business, really. I really considered it to be a hobby that I enjoyed. I had fun going to estate sales, library sales, antique auctions, things like that, coming home with a bunch of books, describing them, figuring out if they were first editions, if they were signed, if there’s some prominence to who had owned them before, and putting them up on the internet in the early days, roughly, of books going online. One thing led to another. A few years later, I was still buying books in larger and larger quantities. I’d hear about a bookstore going out of business. I’d go buy their inventory.

Zibby: Where would you put all this? This is a garage situation?

Thatcher: Physically?

Zibby: Yeah, physically.

Thatcher: I know, because books take up space. We’re in your beautiful studio surrounded by books. One thing I love about books is they really do exist in the real world. You can’t have unlimited quantities of them. Figuring out where to put them when you go buy 25,000 books from a bookstore in Litchfield, Connecticut, it’s a challenge to figure out where they go.

Zibby: I bet.

Thatcher: I operated the business for a number of years out of my basement, and then out of my garage, and then out of a few storage units. I’m in Boulder, Colorado. I had this route all around town where I had books stored and had bookshelves set up. I was very OCD about cataloging them and knowing exactly where everything was, but they were spread out for a long time. I think it wasn’t until eight years into the business that I had an off-site warehouse. Then I closed all the storage units, got everything out of the basement, because we were expecting our second child, and brought everything to one place. That was one Juniper Books headquarters. Then about five years later, we moved it. Eventually, it became real business with a real space. Eventually, I had employees doing the cataloging and shipping. One thing’s led to another.

Zibby: How many books do you think you have now?

Thatcher: These days, we have about 20,000 books in stock. The business really transformed over the years. It was about rare books and first editions back then, very antiquarian, the older the better. Then made a couple shift in the 2000s. Some people asked if I could curate a library for their house. A lightbulb went off. Maybe this could be my niche, curating collections for homeowners and hotel lobbies and things like that when they needed books. Eventually, it shifted to more and more new books and fewer used books and old books, but we still do some of both.

Zibby: Talk to me about how you decided that book covers could be a canvas. Part of your book curation is not only filling libraries with the right things that appeal to those particular owners, but you also have this gift of recovering books and basically taking someone’s interest and if they’re interested in the mountains, having a hundred books and altogether it’s like a puzzle piece that adds up to a picture of a mountain. I probably didn’t explain that very well. How did you come up with that whole thing in addition?

Thatcher: No, that was perfect. It’s really anything that you can imagine with books. We can do it and put that across the covers. It was a few different epiphanies, really. Around 2008 or so, a very well-known designer, Philippe Starck, was ordering lots of books for different properties in Miami and the Caribbean and Dallas and places like that. Each one was a different color wall that would go into a hotel lobby, or the spa in Miami, or the club room in Dallas. They were all, “Can we have a thousand black books and a thousand white books?” I thought, this is cool. This is a better use for those books than them going into landfill or just being pulped or thrown away. A lightbulb went off. Huh, I wonder if there’s some homeowners that want something similar. They want the white books, but they want to be able to find their books. I started experimenting with custom printed jackets and initially just printing the titles on them. Then it went from there to, huh, can I change the color? Can I make them all pink? Can I make them royal blue?

Then from there I thought, one book, one printed jacket with one title is interesting, but when you push a few books together, you all of a sudden have more than just an inch and a half times nine inches tall. Could we do something really fun with that? If you do three books or ten books or multiple shelves, then all of a sudden you’ve got four feet wide by four feet tall. You can print an Eiffel Tower across the shelves or the Brooklyn Bridge or pictures of trees in the forest. You can really do so much more. I thought of it as this canvas that nobody else had really noticed before. Obviously, bookshelves have existed. Book bindings have been around and sending your books to the book binder in London back in the day and getting your books to be uniform. I thought we could unleash this whole creative potential about just putting any books together, especially the books that you want and the books that you’ve read or want to read, and making them really special and artistic so they can be both a piece of art at the same time that they’re totally functional.

Zibby: That’s so cool. It’s going to sound a little kooky, but I once had a session with this medium. She told me that in a prior life I was actually a book binder in London. Make of that what you will.

Thatcher: I love it. That’s every book lover’s dream come true, is to be told that.

Zibby: Exactly. She’s probably just like, “This girl likes books. What can I make up that she would like?” That’s amazing. You have this great business. You figure out this thing with canvases. How do you then spread the word about the fact that you do this? Was it through designers? I’m interested. I know I got to you originally without even meeting you, but through a designer for a previous home I owned to do some custom purple and gray, white books and everything. How do you go from having this brilliant idea to then being the one who’s doing Gwyneth Paltrow’s bookshelves and everything?

Thatcher: Like the business in general, I didn’t set out with a master marketing plan either. I let things unfold very organically. One thing that is a benefit of technology and being the only one that does something is that when people google “custom library builder” or something like that, they can find us because there aren’t that many people to do it. I recognized early on that not everybody needs what we do. When they do think of it when they’re remodeling a house, building a new house, building a hotel, looking for a special gift to give somebody, I wanted to make our site easy to find. On the one hand, that’s one way people find us, through Google and other searches. The other thing is that we’ve gotten a lot of great publicity over the years. I’d attribute that to what we do is fun and creative. It’s a fresh take on something that people love, especially people who are in print media. They all want print to stick around. We want to help them. They want to help us. Printed books, newspapers, and analog media have a lot in common. We got some really good press over the years. Then we also, every time that we’ve worked with a customer, like the designers that we know in common, we treat them really well. We consider everybody to be a customer for life. They might be coming to us for a Harry Potter set now, but they might be back to remodel their house ten years from now. I treat everybody like I learned to treat them in my parent’s business growing up, as a VIP with really good service and make sure that everything was perfect.

Zibby: Your parents owned the restaurant the Quilted Giraffe. You worked in the restaurant to do this or what? Child labor here? Should we explain?

Thatcher: We’ll map them out, yeah. We moved to New York City in 1979 from Upstate New York. My father used to be a Wall Street attorney and small-town attorney. He opened a restaurant on the side and, maybe like me, never planned on having it be a full-time business. He loved cooking. He found that he could do it really well. Even though he never went to culinary school or anything, he became one of the most celebrated chefs in New York in the eighties. We moved to New York in ’79. We lived above the restaurant. I’d call down and order dinner.

Zibby: That’s so cool.

Thatcher: Then occasionally my mom would call upstairs and be like, “It’s raining out. Do you or your sister want to come down and check coats for the night and make some money?” I’d bring my homework to the coat room and check coats and read a book in the coat room. It was a fun way to grow up. Then eventually I worked as a waiter and as a cook and experienced every job in the house.

Zibby: Now do you cook?

Thatcher: I do cook, yeah. I love to cook. Definitely, my sister and I learned from my dad. We love to cook. A lot of the lessons I learned, like we were talking about before, about customer service and creativity and not really being bound by any conventions, if something seems like a crazy idea, you’re probably onto something, if people tell you you’re crazy and it’s not traditional, it’s not accepted. I’ve applied some of those same lessons to what I do in the book world.

Zibby: Maybe this goes back to what you’re saying about being crazy, but how did you know when everybody was being so pessimistic about books that there was still this intense passion for books that a lot of other people had? What do books really give you that e-reader can’t?

Thatcher: It really came from my own personal feelings about the printed book and my own history. I was in the tech industry for seven years coming out of college before I started Juniper Books as a hobby. I had been kind of burnt out on tech even though I was in that industry. This was before the iPhone was ever invented. This was 2001, was the end of my career in the tech business. I was sick of looking at screens. I needed to touch and hold things. I had this year in between the tech world and Juniper Books where I learned to make pottery and played flamenco guitar and did very immersive, single-focused tasks to rewire my brain. Books was one, reading and writing — I had a screenwriting phase too — and selling books were just one of the ways that I got back in touch with who I was and regained my attention span.

I knew even when everybody else was saying, “Didn’t you get the memo that e-books are on the rise? Printed books aren’t going to exist,” I knew that I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of other people that felt the way I did. A lot of people were going along for the ride, like, “Maybe this will be great. Books will be accessible everywhere. You can download them all.” I never thought it was a replacement. I thought it was additive. Yes, you can go away on vacation with forty books and figure out which one you like. Still when you get home, when you have a comfortable reading chair and you want to be surrounded by real books, that feeling, you can’t recreate with e-books. The more I talked to my customers in the earlier days, the more that resonated with them. They said similar things in different words. I felt like I was onto something. I knew it would be a niche, but I wasn’t trying to completely change the world of publishing or media or turn back the tide.

Zibby: People told me that the title of my podcast was too niche because it’s only moms. I was like, if I could get all the moms, I would feel fine about that. If you could get all the book lovers, that would be a lot of people. You’d be okay.

Thatcher: Nearly everybody has books in their home, or they should. Even if you get a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of a percent of people that have books and love books, that’s a huge, huge market. There are very few things that almost everybody has in their house, either one to five thousand of. I knew I was tapping into a big market, whether or not it was everybody or just a fraction.

Zibby: I like how in your book you talk not just about the books, but the interaction of your own story mixing with the stories of the authors and the books and how when you put them on your shelves, it becomes this unique combination. I didn’t quote that very well. Here, I’ll read your words. They were better than mine. “When we add books, any printed books, to our homes and lives and make space for them, something almost alchemical happens.” Alchemical?

Thatcher: It’s like alchemy.

Zibby: I thought it was like alchemy, but alchemical, I don’t know. “We combine the author and their story with who we are and our story. The combination of the author and their story plus us and our story is a new story, and it’s completely original.” I love that. You’re so right.

Thatcher: Thank you. If I could drop the mic now, I would just drop the mic because you said my words better than I can say them.

Zibby: We don’t even have to talk about it. I’ll just tell you that you’re right and I’ll move on if you want.

Thatcher: It’s something that we do without thinking about it. You go shopping for books. You’re gifted books. You keep a certain number of them. Then you move. You redecorate. You say, “This is still important to me. This one’s not. I changed my hobbies. I no longer need these books about Japanese gardens or whatever. Now I’m into Harley Davidsons,” whatever it may be. There’s something so unique about every book that’s ever been written. Every author has spent years writing those books. Then those end up on your shelves. Just behind you, that represents like a hundred years of work, which is amazing in itself.

Zibby: I know. It’s amazing.

Thatcher: Then there’s the story of how you got the books, every store you ever went to or every person that ever gave it to you, every trip that you’ve taken where you’ve taken those books. You start to see how every piece of a bookshelf is completely unique. It’s not accidental, the combination of how those books ended up on that shelf right behind you and then how you arranged them, which ones you decide to put at eye level versus up high or maybe face out the covers. I also describe it as DNA. It’s completely unique, what’s on our shelves. We bring as much to the shelves as the books bring to us. I really do think it’s like alchemy or magic. We’re creating something completely new that only exists right here.

Zibby: It’s so neat. I love that. After I read your book, I was like, I think I might need to go through this room and now take out all the books that don’t really fit or that have traveled with me for years and I don’t even know why I still have them. There are some of these. Then I feel like people look and they’re like, oh, she must like Tales of Investment Bankers, something that I have no interest in looking at again ever and I bought for some article. Maybe after you leave I’ll try to find time to cull these shelves.

Thatcher: It’s fun to do and fun to refresh it every year. That’s what For the Love of Books is all about. It’s about looking at your bookshelves with new mindfulness and intention and refreshing it and being like, does that tell a part of my story or not? In contrast to something like Marie Kondo, does it spark joy? Give most of your books away. There’s a middle ground between keeping every book you’ve ever had and giving every book away. There’s a middle path. Does this mean something to me? Books are not like other objects. They can have a lot more meaning in a lot of different ways. There’s a reason to keep them as a reflection of who you are and who you want to be.

Zibby: I love that. You have, also, really great stuff in the book about how to foster a love of reading for your kids, which people have written entire other books about by the way. You even had, which I have to flag and I guess you don’t have it in your house anymore, but you put a magnetic strip — I’m making hand gestures that nobody can see — horizontally and then intersected vertically, magnetic. Then you put magnetic strips on your daughter’s favorite books since she was a little girl. She could magnetically put them up behind her bed. That is the most clever thing.

Thatcher: I thought so too. I wanted to turn it into a product.

Zibby: You should have, yes.

Thatcher: Maybe someone listening can email me and we can collaborate on it.

Zibby: I thought that was one of the — not that the whole book wasn’t cool. You obviously have all these continual stores of unique ideas. That, I found to be super cool.

Thatcher: It was born out of reading my daughter to bed every night. Her name’s Jasmine. Every parent probably can relate to this. You’re super tired. You pick up one book. Your kids are like, “One more!” Then you toss that one on the floor. You pick up another one. Then you have this messy pile of books on the floor.

Zibby: We have a stepstool. I have a stepstool next to my son’s bed with all the books piling up.

Thatcher: Lots of books, no great way to organize them. Then also, the covers are really super cool, beautiful artwork on Eric Carle books. Ten Little Ladybugs was one of her favorites. I glued the magnets to the back and then would wrap them in a rubber band and then stick them to this magnetic shelf. It’s like a magnetic bar behind us and down the side of the bed. It was a cool way to display the books during the day and a great way to just pick them up and put them back as we finish them. Then when she got bored of a book, we’d retire it and then put a magnet on a new book and stick it up on the shelf.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so cool.

Thatcher: It was fun. There’s some picture of that in the book, like you said.

Zibby: Yes, which was great, better than I could describe them for sure. I want to read this one quote. A handful of the pages in the book are just beautiful one-page quotes from other famous authors or notable figures, one of which is, “If you read the books” — this is by Haruki Murakami. I can’t pronounce anything today. “If you read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking,” which I loved. I keep saying I love everything, but I really did. I feel like there’s pressure, sometimes, to read all the best sellers or what the literary world thinks is the greatest thing ever. Often, I don’t like that. Then I feel bad. I want to read the books I want to read. I feel like there’s all this pressure, even with the theater sometimes. Everybody loves this show. Why don’t I like it? There much be something wrong with me. What you’re saying, you need people to be liking different things. You take it from there.

Thatcher: Yeah, and it’s Murakami who really said it. I can’t take credit for him.

Zibby: I know, but still.

Thatcher: Elizabeth Lane, my coauthor and I on the book, she curated a lot of the quotes. Then Gibbs Smith did a really beautiful job laying it out, our publisher that published the book. On the one hand, everyone’s reaction to a book can be completely different, kind of like what we were talking about before with something alchemical happening and your DNA and your reaction to the books. At the same time, books these days combined with mass media, it’s kind of like cable news or “Have you seen that big new show on Netflix?” or whatever, people tend to move in packs. If everybody tells you you should like this book, then you think you like it even if you don’t like it. Books are one of those great things where you can really make up your own mind, first of all. There’s a book for everybody out there. There’s unlimited books. If we read every minute for the rest of our lives, we’d never be able to read a fraction of the books that are out there. If you don’t like a book, put it down. Go get a new one. You don’t have to like a book just because someone told you you should like it or because it’s a best seller. There’s a thousand different best seller lists and awards and everything. The same challenge with mass media telling you you should like something, the internet opens up the possibilities that there’s a lot of ways to figure out customers who bought this also bought that. If you like Kurt Vonnegut, you’ll also like these authors. There’s so much to explore. Life is short. There’s a lot of good stuff to read out there.

Zibby: I want to hear a little bit about the process of writing this book and figuring out what to include. I don’t know if you’re comfortable talking about your lymphoma. You put in the book that you had been sick. You had to rest, take it back a notch with your business. You’ve invested that time to write this book. Whereas, you could’ve just watched movies and that would’ve been fine. Tell me what that whole process was like and what it felt like to get this diagnosis and how you made sense of life at that time.

Thatcher: Two years ago, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I just finished the two-year anniversary of my treatment ending. Fortunately, it was successful. I’m cancer-free now. It kind of came out of nowhere. I had to get into treatment immediately. It was a very aggressive form of cancer, stage two. I had to stay home a lot and go to chemotherapy a lot. I’d always considered myself a writer before that, even though I’d never published anything. I had this time to reflect while I was still trying to run my business but not really being in the office and having some extra time trying to rest and recover. I was like, when I emerge from this, I really do want to publish books. I had outlined six or seven of them at that point, some fiction, some nonfiction. One of them that I had outlined was a book about what I do. I really had a lot of time to reflect on, why do I do it? I think it’s meaningful for the world. I think books and encouraging people to read, surround themselves with books, have more books in the world is a noble purpose, but was I really doing enough to inspire people to do that?

Was Juniper Books maybe too limited to just the customers who had found us and had the means to hire us? Could I do something that was a little bit broader and really encourage people to look at all the books they own even if they never bought a single thing from us or hired us to do their library or if they never remodeled their house? If they reorganized the paperbacks they have on their shelf, could I provide a book that gave them more insight about how to do that meaningfully, inspired them, and gave them permission to do what they want with their books, and in the world that we live in, to read and slow down? It was okay to do that. They didn’t have to feel like they had to be watching Netflix all day. A few months after emerging from cancer, I was struggling with my energy level and getting back to work full time. I got an email from a publisher. They said, “We want to do a book about home library design. We think you’re the perfect person to write it.” I wrote back and I was like, “Not only am I the perfect person to write, but I already started writing it. Let’s do it.” I didn’t shop it around. I had known them from selling their books before. They’re in Utah. We’re in Colorado. We’re both the outliers from the book world in New York. It was a really good fit.

Elizabeth Lane, who was the founder of Quarter Lane, really nice book subscription company, and she’s the book buyer for a business in Massachusetts — I knew I needed help. I knew she was a great editor. I needed help staying on deadline and bounce ideas off of. She’s another great book lover. We worked together, and it came together super quickly. That initial email, I think, was in February. We basically had the deal all outlined by the spring. The book was done in October. Then here we are a year later. It’s out on the shelves and available for purchase. Been making a few stops on the book tour. It was a lot to go through to get to that point. Fortunately, writing the book flowed very smoothly. Because I had that wakeup call that reminded me that I wanted to be a writer and to have a greater impact than just the business, it really is very fulfilling to have the book out there on the shelves now.

Zibby: What about the other five or six books?

Thatcher: I’m working on one of them right now, currently at the book proposal stage trying to finish that up in the next couple weeks.

Zibby: Nonfiction?

Thatcher: Nonfiction, more of a productivity, self-improvement book. I looked at, how am I able to get things done in this very noisy, multitasking-oriented world? and coalesced my personal philosophy into a book. Hopefully I’ll be back in the future to talk more about it. It is truly how I get things done. Reading is the launching-off point to really regaining your attention span and your focus and being able to do one thing at a time in order to do everything in life better.

Zibby: I totally believe that. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Thatcher: Definitely just keep writing. The marketplace has changed so much that there are a lot of opportunities for self-publishing that there weren’t before. There’s a lot of variety in the marketplace in terms of genres that are always looking for more good books. You have to get it done. You can’t just talk about it. Even though I’m in the book world and close to all the publishers and a lot of writers and have a lot of inspiration around me, it took me eighteen years to really sit down and finish a book, but I never gave up on the dream. It took some other things to inspire me to finish a book. I’d say don’t give up. Keep writing. Share your writing too. I also have a tendency to be a little protective. Every time I’ve shared my writing with other people, it definitely makes it stronger to get some feedback.

Zibby: Excellent. Thank you, Thatcher.

Thatcher: Thanks, Zibby. It was a pleasure.

Zibby: Thanks for sharing. Your book is beautiful, not just to read, but also to look at. Thanks for putting that out there in the world.

Thatcher: Thank you. It’s an honor to be in your library.

Zibby: Thanks.