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Five Questions for Michael Barnard


Photo by Cali Godley

Danville’s Rakestraw Books is a haven for book lovers, providing them the opportunity to browse shelves packed with literature and chat with like-minded bibliophiles. We caught up with owner Michael Barnard to talk about his passion for the book business. 


Q: What is your history with bookstores?

A: I loved bookstores from the beginning. The old Hooked on Books in Walnut Creek was my favorite when I was a kid. When I was 17 or 18, my mother gave me $100 and the promise of a day spent going to as many bookstores as I wanted to. We mapped out a route that took us around the East Bay and went to eight or nine stores.


Q: Your store is so well curated. How do you determine what goes on the shelves?

A: There’s no way to have everything I want at one time. I have to consider what people are asking for, what we’re excited to sell right now, what I continue to recommend that’s older. Sometimes the biggest gaps are people who are recently dead, where there are no more new books, and they [haven’t been] rediscovered yet.


Q: Which local authors have benefited most from your support?

A: Michael Chabon has been a huge hit here over the years. … Andrew Sean Greer is another one. Until Less won a Pulitzer Prize, I think we were the best-selling store in the country for that book.


Q: You have brought so many famous writers to Danville for events. Which ones were the most memorable?

A: There have been so many. Recently, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were perfect. There were 1,400 people checked in, and we sold 1,484 books. The flow was flawless, and they were great together.

Other things over the years: Philip Pullman went on tour for The Amber Spyglass ... and we did a school-day event at the Village Theatre. And when Brian Selznick [did an event] for Wonderstruck, we took [over] the performing arts theater at San Ramon Valley High School. … Kids came from schools around the East Bay, including the School for the Deaf in Fremont. It was an amazing event.

Tim Gunn [of Project Runway] came, and we had the marquee in the parking lot behind the [old Southern Pacific Railroad] depot. We put on a fashion show and raised $5,000 for the Princess Project.


Q: Do you have a favorite book?

A: There isn’t one; I usually have a top five. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Chabon, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham. And then, probably [Jane Austen’s] Pride and Prejudice.


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