Bill Petrocelli — Bio
Bill is the co-owner with his wife, Elaine, of the nationally known-bookstore Book Passage. Book Passage has three bookstores in California in Corte Madera, Sausalito, and at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Bill attended Oakland Public Schools and is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and the U.C. Law School. In addition to several years in private practice, he served as a California Deputy Attorney General and as the head of a poverty law office in Oakland, California.
Bill served on the Board of the American Booksellers Association and as attorney for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, in which he successfully pursued a major price-discrimination suit against publishers. Recently, he was the plaintiff in a First Amendment case challenging a California law that threatened to interfere with the distribution of autographed books. The law was subsequently modified by the California Legislature.
He is a frequent advocate on women’s issues and on the problems of local businesses.
He is the author of four books.
(A Cheekier Bio)
This is the page on an author’s website where the writer is usually portrayed in uplifting, slightly impersonal tones – a paean of success and respectability. I thought about doing that; instead I wrote this.
I was born in Oakland, California, and attended Oakland Public Schools. After graduation I drove about ten miles or so to the University of California in Berkeley and enrolled as a student. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I went back a year later and eventually received a law degree from the same university. All of this cost me about $45 per semester. So for a total of about $630, I received two degrees from the finest public university in the country.
I’m fortunate it didn’t cost more, because my working-class family wouldn’t have been able to afford it. But today that same tuition is over $100,000. But that’s assuming that a kid from Oakland would even be accepted. The University these days seems to be more partial to applicants from out of state who can be charged an even higher tuition.
So when asked how much social progress I’ve seen in my lifetime, I look around at students who are saddled to their eyeballs with student debt. I have to answer, “Maybe not so much.”
After law school I spent some time in the California Attorney General’s learning the ways and mores of the state bureaucracy, but my real-world education began when I began working in a poverty law office in East Oakland for the Alameda County Legal Aid Society. There, I learned the amazing ways in which some people cope with problems that would sink the rest of us. But I also learned too that grinding poverty can eventually defeat anyone. It was important to me at that point in my life to be working with an energetic group of lawyers in that environment. But we all soon realized that it was going to take more than our legal enthusiasm to solve the problem of persistent poverty.
Fighting the good fight, but not winning the big war – there’s a pattern there. And it’s one that I’ve repeated over the years. When I was in private law practice a few years later I was hired by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to pursue a pair of antitrust cases against major publishers who were engaged in price discrimination against independent bookstores. We won the cases, but we were never able to stop the practice from springing up again in different, more virulent forms. Sadly, today the book business is still riven with unfair business practices that the Justice Department seems determined to make worse.
In 1981 I wrote Low Profile: How to Avoid the Privacy Invaders, which was published by McGraw-Hill. This was in the wake of the Nixon investigations, and I wrote it as a warning against government and commercial intrusion into personal and private matters. That fight wasn’t just lost – it was lost in spectacular fashion.
And when the next wave hits, it will be far worse. Technology continues to be the ally of the snooper. Future privacy-invaders will not only be more efficient in getting what they want, they will be much better able to cover their tracks. Informational systems used to have built-in limitations: the very bulk of the material maintained in the system imposed practical limitations on what an individual snooper could glean from the files. But the computer is rapidly depriving us of all that protection. At the same time we are increasing the personal information in public and private data banks, we are expanding geometrically the accessibility of that information to those who are bent on misusing it.
I wrote those words in 1981, but I could just as easily have written them last week.
I would like to think that my next book had a greater impact. Barbara Kate Repa and I wrote Sexual Harassment on the Job: What it is and How to Stop it for Nolo Press in 1992. There are dozens of books on that topic now, but this one was the first. While we were editing it, I remember screaming at the TV screen during the Clarence Thomas- Anita Hill hearings, saying, “That’s it — that’s what we’re talking about!” Things may have gotten better since then, but when I look at the stories told by the “Me Too” movement I’m not so sure.
For the last several years I’ve been involved mostly with my wife in helping to operate Book Passage, which has two bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although the deck will probably always be stacked against independent bookselling, it’s still a wonderful business. Every day we meet enthusiastic readers, a few famous authors, and a lot of new writers on their way up. And all of this happens in a place that is uniquely suited to put people in an upbeat mood: an independent bookstore.
I have a wonderful wife– Elaine,
four terrific children – Grant, Nicole, Kathryn, and Michael,
six brilliant grand-children – Petra, Ian, Sammy, Bryn, Laura, and Dylan.
So what, exactly am I complaining about?
Book Passage Bookstores in San Francisco and Marin
When she started in the book business in 1976, Book Passage founder and president Elaine Petrocelli had the goal of creating the best possible bookstore for the people of Marin County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
She and her husband/partner, Bill Petrocelli, with the help of the wonderful booksellers at Book Passage, have luckily been able to achieve much of what they set out to do.
Book Passage has been an innovator in bringing many of the the world’s finest authors to the Bay Area. These have included network anchors, front-line journalists, Nobel Prize-winners, first time novelists—and even three Presidents. They have all have been among the thousands of authors who have spoken at Book Passage.
Book Passage currently averages more than 700 author events per year, and the authors who speak at both the Marin County and San Francisco stores cover every conceivable subject, with events for people of all ages and interests. Many of these events are held as benefits for local charitable organizations. In the past few years Book Passage author events and other programs have helped raise money for Hospice by the Bay, Marin Community Clinics, Buckelew Programs, Canal Community Alliance, Marin Abused Women Services, Marin Aids Projects,Breast Cancer Action, Performing Stars, Marin Literacy Project, and many other programs.
Book Passage has also created a unique program of in-store classes designed for people who want to learn more about writing and the book business. These programs draw teachers and students from all over the nation, and many of the students have gone on to become published authors. In addition to the classes, Book Passage hosts three annual writing conferences: Mystery Writers Conference,Conference for Children’s Writers & Illustrators, and Conference for Travel Wrtiters & Photographers. These conferences have gained a world-wide reputation, drawing faculty and students from as far away as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Brunei.
But day-to-day bookselling is at the heart of Book Passage. The booksellers at Book Passage pride themselves on their personalized service and their knowledge of books. While they mostly talk about books with customers on a one-to-one basis at the counter or at the bookshelf, Book Passage booksellers frequently host small discussion groups and speak at community organizations about books and the book business.
Both Book Passage owners have been highly active in the bookselling business nationally. Elaine Petrocelli was named “1997 Bookseller of the Year” byPublishers Weekly magazine, while Bill Petrocelli has served two terms on the board of directors of the American Booksellers Association.