paperback dreams

  • PAPERBACK DREAMS is the story of two landmark independent bookstores and their struggle to survive. The film follows Andy Ross, owner of Cody’s Books, and Clark Kepler, owner of Kepler’s Books, over the course of two tumultuous years in the book business.

  • In the last decade, competition from big chains and the internet has put booksellers in a vice. Half the independent bookstores in America closed in the 1990s. But in the 1960s, bookstores like Cody’s and Kepler’s redefined intellectual life, democratized literature, and helped launch a counterculture. Publishers were putting the classics into cheap paperback editions for the first time. Literature—once the purview of academics and elites—was suddenly affordable for the masses. Most established booksellers dismissed the new editions as drugstore pulp. Their indifference allowed a new kind of store to emerge, and it opened the door to a new breed of bookseller.
  • Roy Kepler was a committed pacifist who spent World War II in a labor camp for conscientious objectors. His strong personal ethics and love of learning lead him to open Kepler’s Books near Stanford University in 1955. Around the same time, Fred Cody, fresh out of grad school at Columbia, found that a teaching job would require him to sign an unconstitutional loyalty oath. So he struck out with his wife Pat–an accomplished intellectual in her own right–and opened an eponymous paperback bookstore on the edge of the U.C. Berkeley campus.
  • At various points in time, these stores endured vandalism, harassment, and firebombs—all for the simple act of selling books. Protesters were tear gassed outside Cody’s during the Free Speech Movement. For his politics of peace, Roy Kepler repeatedly received phone calls threatening his life. But they influenced a new generation of booklovers, and by 1977, when Andy Ross bought Cody’s, bookstores were booming. Clark Kepler soon took over his father’s store, and they built upon on the proud traditions of the stores’ founders, including their commitment to free speech.
  • In 1989, Cody’s was firebombed for selling The Satanic Verses. This lead Waldenbooks and the other chains bookstores of the day to pull Salman Rushdie’s controversial book from the shelves. Owner Andy Ross called a store meeting, and asked the staff what they wanted to do. They unanimously voted to keep selling the book.
  • Today, both Cody’s and Kepler’s are still standing, but the ground beneath their feet is shifting. Economic pressures have booksellers in a vice, but these tight financial times don’t reflect the full value of these stores to their communities. In 2005, Clark Kepler closed his store after fifty years in business, and was talking to bankruptcy lawyers. The loss of the store was mourned from handwritten posters on the shop’s shuttered windows to the pages of the New York Times. And then—in a scene straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life—Kepler’s loyal customers bailed them out, and the store reopened after 40 days. But not every community is wealthy enough to stage such a dramatic rescue. For the rest of us, the future of the local bookstore is uncertain.
  • Independent bookstores function as literary laboratories, and publishers rely on them to champion new and controversial work. To passionate booksellers, selling books remains revolutionary. PAPERBACK DREAMS celebrates what these stores offer our local communities, and mourns the cultural loss that comes when a good bookstore closes its doors.

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