"In Paris, we eat brains every night."
That's the first line of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, a novel by Lorrie Moore, and it's one of Bailey/Coy Books manager Michael Wells' favorite opening lines in literature. His other favorite is: "You know more than you think you do," from Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. Memorize those.
Wells is to credit for a highly popular contest that the staff at Bailey/Coy conducts daily, the object of which is to name the book whose first sentence has been scrawled on the chalkboard outside the store. (The prize: 20 percent off your purchase that day.) A murder mystery one day, a cookbook the next, the staff draws the trivia from every section in the store. "The point is to get people into the store, so I try to find books that are going to seem familiar to someone. The point is not to do something esoteric and beautiful."
"There are days when it's incredibly easy," he admits. "I've never used 'Call me Ishmael,' and I never will. But twice I've used Goldfinger, which has James Bond's name in it, and no one's gotten it. I don't think most people know James Bond came from books."
Wells came, for his part, from Illinois. In 1982, at 18 years old, he started his career at Old Main Bookstore, the same year Barbara Bailey and Michael Coy moved Bailey/Coy from downtown to Broadway. Coy sold his share of the business to Bailey in 1989, and in two months Bailey will sell the business to Michael Wells.
Last Thursday, the current owner and future owner announced plans of the sale. Official in February, the news has been a long time coming. "I've apprenticed under Barbara Bailey for the past 13 years," Wells said. "She's really kind of a father figure to me. And I'm like the eldest daughter."
Barbara Bailey, a businesswoman, gay and lesbian political activist, and prominent philanthropist, said last week about her retirement, "I'm very excited. I always wanted to be in Port Townsend"—she is moving there with her brother, who founded Bay Press and was at one time publisher of Copper Canyon Press—"and this gives me an opportunity. It will be an easy transition. In the past year or two, I haven't been here that much, so what you've seen is what Michael's done."
Wells is not as visible in the community as Bailey. "I have a cot in the back and a hot plate, and I sell books," he said. "I take naps and I get up and sell books again. That's all I do." He doesn't plan on changing anything. "It's not like we're going to throw in a coffee bar. It's the same Bailey/Coy it's been, and it will be the same for 10 years."
Last week the Nightstand called to extend our congratulations, and then—because his damn contest flattens our bookish pride on a nearly nightly basis—we put him on the spot.
"'Mother died today.'"
"The Stranger, Albert Camus," he said correctly.
"'In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.'"
"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers," he said. (Correct again.) He also got Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Bell Jar. (We only stumped him once, on Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, which begins, "The day broke gray and dull.")
"Four out of five is not bad."
"I've been writing these trivia things for years," he said. "I've used all those."