Thirteen years ago, while in Ferndale, Kris Nelson applied for the job of busboy (her word) in a restaurant, "preparing to work my way up to cocktail waitress. But they were out of applications, so I wandered down the street -- there's only one business street in Ferndale (located south of Eureka) -- and into a used bookstore. I asked for a job. They said, 'You know, someone just quit.' "
Nelson soon dropped out of school, having decided that bookselling was the culmination of all her interests and job skills. "That was when I thought it was good to be poor," she added, "but I'm wavering on that ethic."
Nelson, 33, is from Spring Valley, so she moved back to the area to open her first bookstore in May of 1999: Bluestocking Books & Bindery on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, in the space formerly occupied by Otento, then by Joseph Tabler Books. The name, she explained, goes back to the 1700s, when women in England began holding literary salons. "Bluestocking" has come to mean a woman who is bookish.
In addition to buying and selling books, Nelson binds them. She first became interested in the process while working at Safari Books on Adams Avenue.
"I started to wonder about old books and how they should be repaired," she said. "My boss there hooked me up with (bookbinder) Margaret Mannatt. I took a few lessons, studied on my own, took apart books from the dollar rack and put them back together. Then I went to study in Idaho, learning in-depth about papermaking, and bookbinding from the Middle Ages. I learned about the most basic materials and what lasts the longest over time."
Bluestocking has no real emphasis; "interesting works in fiction and non-fiction" is how Nelson puts it, with perhaps a bent toward scholarly stuff of any kind.
"Or just plain quirky," she said. "I'm trying to tie into a larger culture, as well as what people are interested in locally. I think that's what books do -- they tie into humanity."