An interview with Dana Swift of Books & Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

I love the children’s area. There is something truly magical about this colorful place where kids of all ages come to discover a new book or discover the joy of reading. It isn’t always some portal into fantasy or adventure either. The children’s area can also be where a historian picks up their first biography or botanist their first book about plants. The real magic happens when kids learn something new about themselves.

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

Being starstruck has become part of the job description because Books & Books hosts such wonderful authors. At my first event, I worked with one of my all-time favorite authors, Brigid Kemmerer. That experience set a high bar. However, most recently, I’ve gotten to introduce and help Maggie Steifvater sign copies of her books. While doing so, a nice customer inquired if Maggie was an author, and I began as any fan would gushing about Maggie’s books. That customer turned out to be Victoria Beckham, a fact I only registered after a fellow bookseller told me who I had been talking to.

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

My immediate response is to say something about the physical labor with hauling books, heavy books to be exact. But I also find the daily struggles are when customers think I can and have read everything in the store and thus ask me for recommendations in genres I don’t pick up as much. However, that’s my favorite part of working with other bookworms, who can find your next great read.

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

My absolute least favorite part of the job is not being able to find a specific book for a customer when our systems say we have it. It’s down-right heartbreaking if a title has only been misplaced. On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE handing a customer a book they are excited about. There is nothing better than watching a customer’s face light up. Another favorite part of my job involves seeing my books in the bookstore every day. I was a bookseller years ago while I wrote my first novel and being a bookseller once again with my series on the shelf is indescribable. 

What’s the best dedication or first line of a book that you can remember?

I love first lines, but I also hardly recall all my favorites unless they entangle themselves into pop culture. For example, the opening of Pride and Prejudice feels like a staple of literature. One of the first lines I keep coming back to is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. It begins, “There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” There’s something about the simplicity and voice of the narration that shouts interesting.

However, I’ll leave you with this –– The first line to anything I’m re-reading is especially thrilling. For it means I’m once again going to be swept into a good story.

What’s YOUR favorite indie bookstore that you’ve visited, besides your own!

This is such a good question. I will say the list is mighty and varied. The first indie bookstore I ever encountered was Toadstool Bookshop in New Hampshire, a small pocket of joy I can easily sink into when I think of childhood. In Austin, Texas there are two bookstores I adore –– BookPeople for how large and diverse their selection and BookWoman, the first place I ever read my own fiction aloud to a group of strangers. For that’s the wonder of indie bookstores. They aren’t simply storefronts. They are experiences and connection and community wrapped in the love of literature. And I’m so glad to call Books & Books my home away from home. 

Dana Swift is the children’s book buyer at Books & Books in Miami.