An interview with Emily Giglierano of Astoria Bookshop

What is your favorite area of your bookstore?

Our under-visited kids’ nonfiction section. It’s not ideally situated, tucked away near the office and the back door storage area, but the books are my favorites: these are the really cool picture-book biographies, the oversized atlases of wild animals and places all over the world, almanacs and science books, the “growing up” shelf that covers self-esteem, social justice, and sexuality for elementary through high-schoolers — in other words, all of the most interesting books that try to explain how the world works. I almost always learn something new when I’m shelving here, and it’s my favorite place to recommend gift books.

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

The first one to spring to mind is Aimee Nezhukumathil’s WORLD OF WONDERS — something about the charming nature illustrations + the title + the foil on the author’s name, it just brings me joy and makes me want to stop and pick it up every time I see it. It’s small but has a big impact.

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

Cat Sebastian’s THE PERFECT CRIMES OF MARIAN HAYES, a historical romance + crime novel in which our two bisexual lead characters fall in love while exchanging blackmail letters. I’ve read it twice this year, once as soon as the galley was posted and again for a mini-romance book club.

My go-to backlist pick is THE CUTTING SEASON by Attica Locke: The caretaker at a plantation-house museum – a museum still owned by the family that ran the plantation where her ancestors were enslaved – uncovers historical secrets. An emotionally complex mystery novel with great atmosphere and a relatable single-mother protagonist.

Do you have a strange customer story?

One of our regulars speaks with a flat, demanding tone of voice that can sound aggressive, especially when she’s asking questions. Once, after several typical questions – “Miss, how much this book cost? Miss, why you not have [this other book]?” she asked one more: “Miss, do you like cheese?”

I had to say yes. Next thing I know, she reaches into her pocket and hands me a wedge of cheddar cheese! (Packaged in plastic.) She’d given us tokens of appreciation before, like a pen from the bank and cookies from a holiday gift basket, but this was the first perishable food item….

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

Since I started working at the bookshop right before the pandemic kicked into gear, I haven’t gotten to spend much time with authors here. But I was working at Penguin Random House when Knopf published Judy Blume’s grown-up novel, IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT, and hosted an in-office signing. I asked her to sign a copy of the book to my seventh-grade English teacher – and still got a little choked up 😊

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

I think people tend to forget that it’s a customer service job — it’s not just you and a stack of books, it’s also about being able to talk with folks who come in, asking the right questions to suss out what they want to take home (especially when they’re buying for someone else!), and making small talk.

Least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part?

Least favorite: As a small store, we’re constantly trying to fit more stock on our shelves than we actually have room for, so this is a job that’s never done! Favorite part: Alphabetizing is extremely satisfying.

Readalike for a popular book?

One of our biggest sellers this past year has been Michelle Zauner’s CRYING IN H MART. The memoir that I try to give everyone alongside it is SEEING GHOSTS by Kat Chow (Grand Central, 2021). Like H Mart, Seeing Ghosts is about losing your mother to cancer and negotiating your complicated relationship to her culture — but Kat tells her story in a fragmented, snapshot-like style, revisiting certain scenes and moments from her childhood and her parents’ lives so that I felt like I was remembering alongside her as I read. The way she reexamines her relationships with her parents as she grows into adulthood offered me new perspectives on my own parental relationships, and changed the way I think about my grandparents’ stories of growing up as first-generation Americans, and how that influenced my parents in turn.

Emily Giglierano is a bookseller at Astoria Bookshop in Queens, NY.