An interview with Steve Winter, bookseller at Ada's Technical Books

Ask Steve Winter how long he’s been in the bookselling business and he’ll tell you, “I’ve been saying 22 years for a couple years.” After a few short stints at bookstores in his native Michigan, Winter moved to Seattle and worked at Elliott Bay Book Company for ten years (where, full disclosure, he and I were coworkers) and at Third Place Books for eight years.

For the last two years, Winter has worked at Ada’s Technical Books for Ada’s co-owner Danielle Hulton, who claims less than a quarter of his bookselling experience. Winter loves the way Hulton has embraced bookstore ownership. “I think because Danielle has come into this as a relative outsider to the bookstore community, she didn’t have that perpetual doom and gloom that people in independent bookstores have had over the last 15 years, with the rise of the chains and online sales and Costco,” he says. He thinks her lack of experience at the outset proved to be a great benefit for Ada’s as they reinvented what a neighborhood bookstore could and should be. “Her energy plunging into the world of bookselling is fantastic.”

Of course, there’s something to be said for experience, too. Winter is one of the best handsellers I’ve ever worked with; when he’s passionate about a book (he specializes in sci-fi, though his interests are many and varied) he has been known to put dozens, or even hundreds, of copies in peoples’ hands over the course of a year.

What’s unique to Winter’s experience at Ada’s? Has working in a science bookstore been any different than working in a general-interest bookstore? “I’ve become friends with not one, but two astronomers” working at the bookstore, Winter explains. He’s learned a lot about astronomy from their conversations. “I even urged one of them [Dr. Sarah Ballard] to do an event here. She studies exoplanets, and she gave a great talk about inclusion and science.”

In addition, Winter has been adopting new interests through his job at Ada’s: “I found a new love of computer programming,” explaining that he's been working primarily with Python. When I respond to Winter’s announcement with the blank stare of a man who equates computer programming to wizardry, he clarifies. Python is “a very simple language recommended for beginners to programming, especially kids. It’s fairly straightforward and obvious.” But it’s not just kiddie-table stuff, Winter says. Python is used in “scientific applications, because it can crunch data really well. Both my astronomer friends have learned Python and use it a lot.”

Lately, the book Winter has been enthusing over is Dataclysm by Christian Rudder, one of the cofounders of OK Cupid. He appreciates how Rudder “takes the big data to deconstruct how Americans say one thing but their behavior says other things.” The book appeals to Winter’s love of trivia, including the fact that “for people on OK Cupid, the band Belle and Sebastian is like the whitest thing you can be interested in.” Winter says he’s learned a lot about gender and race and friendships from the book: “every day I came to work after reading a chapter or two, I had fun and alarming things to tell people.”

Winter has also fallen in love with a new poster of the moons of Jupiter by Halfpence Design that Ada’s just started carrying. He embraces all the various ways the bookstore reaches out to people in an effort to make them feel welcome. “Part of Ada’s mission is to make science and technology accessible to all,” Winter says. It's a mission that makes him happy to be a bookseller.