An interview with Chelsea Bauer of Union Ave. Books

What’s your favorite area of the bookstore?

My favorite area of Union Ave Books is the building. We are in a TVA building from the 1920s so we have big, beautiful windows and interesting architectural details throughout. I think Union Ave is the most beautiful street in Knoxville and it’s a real thrill to walk down it every day.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

I am a big fan of the new Octavia E. Butler re-issues that have been coming out from Hachette. We often have a full shelf of face-out Butler’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead was my favorite book of 2021. I thought it was just stunning. One of the few dual-timeline books that I didn’t much, much prefer one timeline over the other. It follows an infamous female aviatrix in the early part of the 20th century and an actress playing her in a contemporary film adaptation of her life. It was sweeping and epic and all of my favorite descriptive words for books. I would have happily read 500 more pages.

THREE MEN IN A BOAT (TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG) by Jerome K. Jerome is a go-to backlist rec for me. One of the few books that made me laugh in public. It’s three doofuses (and their dog) in a boat on the Thames river in the late 1800s. When you find someone else who has read it, you are instantly bonded, like a secret society that is both slightly selective and extremely silly.

Do you have a strange customer story?

Just today, actually, a man came in straight from 1998 and asked if we had a book about the value of Beanie Babies. He was taken aback when I said we did not.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

David Sedaris comes through town about once a year so every time I see him I feel more comfortable giving an opinion on his jacket/culottes combination. I’m currently trying to convince myself that I can keep my cool in front of Hanif Abdurraqib (whom I love) when he’s in town for the music festival Big Ears at the end of March. We are selling books for the literary portion which includes him, Kim Gordon, Saul Williams, Nikki Giovanni, and Patti Smith. Everyone is very excited and overwhelmed!

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

I think people sometimes assume that working in a bookstore is just a hobby. Or that we sit around reading books all day. In reality, a bookstore is a business that has to be run and I’m usually flying around trying to find a computer that isn’t being used so I can throw something on a backlist, finalize a frontlist order, or check in the shipment from UPS.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

I do a lot of the buying and it is so fun trying to guess what is going to sell. I really love finding off-beat publishers or translated fiction to bring in and it’s always a joy when someone takes a chance on something they haven’t heard of before. I also love when a bookish kid comes in that has read everything, it’s such a challenge to find the perfect book for kids that are voracious and it is so satisfying when you do.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

Anytime anyone picks up one of the regency romances that are so popular right now I always want to shove Georgette Heyer into their hands. They are not steamy, but more than make up for it with witty dialogue and spectacularly sarcastic (and always grey-eyed) love interests. I always warn that they are of their time (mid 20th century) and she’s managed to completely ruin a few absolutely delightful books with her period-typical ignorance. My favorite is FREDERICA: truly well-written children, an older and incredibly grumpy Earl who is always ready with a zinger, and a heroine who blithely ignores everyone and does exactly what she wants. Oh, and there’s a hot air balloon accident. What more could you want?

Chelsea Bauer is Buyer and a bookseller at Union Ave. Books in Knoxville, Tennessee.