An interview with Grace Hagen of The Novel Neighbor

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area of the bookstore is the front window section, both inside and outside facing. It is one of the places where we showcase our values as we highlight monthly themes, books and sidelines relevant to current events. Linda and Michelle are so thoughtful about how they curate the sidewalk-facing window display, I love how it greets our customers and neighbors.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves? In a Garden Burning Gold

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

My staff pick for a recent new release: When Women Were Dragons. It was SO moving. Although this novel is set in an alternate reality and in the past, where some women are actually dragons, it couldn’t be more prescient given our current socio-political environment. This novel quenched an emotional need for me, made me feel more powerful, and more in love with the strength that “ordinary” people can exercise. Barnhill doesn’t preach one right way of being, but is inclusive of myriad identities and presents characters who are complex and imperfect in such an accessible way. Simply LOVED it.

My staff pick for backlist: Beloved. Beloved has been banned from at least five schools in the U.S. despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and being nominated for the National Book Award, among many other acclaims. This novel is proof that great art can sometimes create great discomfort. It invites readers to grapple with individual, family, and systemic trauma, while challenging the binary understanding of right and wrong. It brings to life many types of relationships with graphic descriptions, the supernatural, and deep humanity.

Do you have a strange customer story?

The strangest and most delightful customer story I have is when an adorable toddler was in the store intently reading (or pretending to read?) How Not to Become a Little Old Lady like it was full of the secrets to life!

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

I was absolutely starstruck when I met Claudia Rankine a few years ago. Her talk was so generous – she gave up a lot of emotional labor to the audience during the Q and A – and so prescient.

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

There are two misconceptions I regularly encounter. One is that we get to read all day at work, which sounds dreamy but is so not true. The other is that we are just a tiny staff of book lovers. The truth is that we are book lovers, but we have a very large staff (20 people!) of highly skilled professionals in various roles related to the work of an independent bookstore.

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

My least favorite bookstore task is bookcover stripping. I understand the reason for the process, but it does hurt my soul a bit.

My favorite part about working in a bookstore: This is such a hard question to answer which makes me feel SO lucky to have my job in particular at The Novel Neighbor! I get to do many different things that bring me joy, like supporting and amplifying local activists addressing important socio-political issues that impact the community. It’s also such a delight that part of my job is to intentionally celebrate our staff and affirm their incredible work on individual and collective levels.

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

We sell a lot of Emily Henry’s Beach Read and an underrated comp for that is The Roughest Draft. We have an amazing romance customer community and the agreement is that it’s a great readalike!

Grace Hagen is the Director of Operations and Inclusion at The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis.

One thought on “An interview with Grace Hagen of The Novel Neighbor”

  • Congrats Grace, I’ve always wanted to work in a bookstore. Yours seems to be very special! I’ll be asking you when I need my next
    Book suggestion! Hearts!! C

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