An interview with Holly Dowell of WORD Bookstore – Brooklyn

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

I love our staff pick section and our themed window displays! Our staff has such varied tastes and I enjoy seeing them all side-by-side. We also swap out the front window seasonally to match the heritage months and other bookish celebrations like Banned Books Week. Often people find new books by seeing the featured selections there.  

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

I’m a sucker for beautiful, creative covers that also perfectly align with the book. Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens fit this excellently with 19th-century pastels of oranges concealing a pale face. I also swooned over the hardcover editions of Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (opalescent folklore!) and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (the strong dichotomy of pink and black is stunning). They’re all good books, to boot!  

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

Two recent new releases I’ve adored have been The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin and Acceptance by Emi Nietfeld. Chin’s debut novel is enchanting and tender, mixing all of my favorite elements – a road trip, scavenger hunts, and a young woman searching for answers. Nietfeld’s memoir is a must-read. She candidly describes her childhood in and out of foster care & institutionalization. 

As for backlist, I have to show some love for my favorite author Anthony Marra. His book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena left me forever changed, offering a deeply human perspective on the Chechen Wars. In the nonfiction realm, I cannot quit recommending It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario. She writes of her time as a war reporter with such conviction and honesty. 

Do you have a strange customer story?

I have no shortage, haha. One that comes to mind is a customer who came and asked for our help remembering a title she’d read about recently but couldn’t remember. She was confident it was nonfiction nature writing, recently reviewed in a major publication, and had something to do with birds. We racked our brains and used all our Googling techniques but came up empty-handed. She thanked us for our efforts and left, convinced that her partner would remember. A few hours later she came back, exuberant. The book? Where the Crawdads Sing.

What author have you been starstruck to meet?

This is one of the coolest parts of working for an indie shop in New York City. I’ve had a number of such instances, but particularly notable was getting to host the First Lady of Iceland to celebrate her book, Secrets of the Sprakkar. The event was even recorded for C-SPAN!

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

Honestly, I could write a book about this! A common misconception is that I know about every book ever written. I wish that was true, but thousands of books come out every month! I couldn’t possibly keep them all cataloged in my brain. Another misconception is that we get to read on the job, but there’s just far too much to do with a lean staff. That said, it is accurate that we spend a whole lot of time chatting about books.

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

Least favorite? Shelving. It’s the dishes of the bookstore – it always feels like you just did it! My favorite part is making recommendations, whether it’s in-person, on our Instagram stories, or for our WORD To Your Mailbox subscription service. I love learning the nuances of people’s preferences and helping direct them to the perfect read.

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

Can I make a few? If you liked Pachinko, I suggest We Measure The Earth With Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama. For readers of Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You, try Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados. And if you picked up bell hooks’s All About Love, follow me right this way to See No Stranger by Valerie Kaur.

Holly Dowell is a Bookseller & Social Media Manager at WORD Bookstore – Brooklyn.