An interview with Katie Holt of The Strand

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite part of the store are the stacks of fiction seated against the back wall, but more specifically range of letters that’s MNOP. Personally, I love shelving and it takes a lot of our day up since we’re a used bookstore. This is the area where all the carts with books to be shelved sit and I love sorting through them and being able to just easily turn around and shelve a book within these stacks. It’s also super aesthetically pleasing and the easiest place in the store to shelve, in my opinion.

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

We have tables in the front of the store where we’ll prop different books up and I think my favorite cover is Before the Coffee Gets Cold on our Best of the Best table. I think it’s such a cute cover and I always want to buy it whenever I see it.

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

I just finished two back to back ARCs that I thought were phenomenal and they come out this month. Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson and Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood. I read those both in a day and haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. For a backlist, I’d pick You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle. It’s such a unique and hilarious rom-com. I’ve reread it so many times and I swear I find something new to love about it every time. I also think the main female character, Naomi, is such a chaotic icon and I love her inner dialogue.

Do you have a strange customer story?

I have plenty. It’s New York so a lot of characters come in, which can be really interesting. We have a regular, but I don’t know his name, who comes in a lot. He wears the same thing: a blue jumpsuit outfit with a helmet that has tinfoil covering it and sticking out on top of it so he looks like an astronaut or alien or something. There’s usually classical music playing in the store, but one day it was super loud. I was restocking our tables and the regular was standing in the front of the store giving a full operatic performance. It was weird…but I have to admit he was really good haha. He finished his song and walked out without a word.

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

I don’t know why I give authors the same status as celebrities in my brain, so when an author I know comes in I totally geek out. Alexis Daria came in to attend an event for Hannah Orenstein and I gushed over her books. And Dustin Thao came in to sign his books and I immediately went “Oh my God you’re Dustin Thao.” It’s super cool anytime they come in. I’m hosting an in person event in our rare book room with the graphic novelist, Catana, and I’m super pumped for that!

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

I think a lot of people assume it’s really slow and you get to sit and read all day. I definitely thought that, too, but it’s a retail job. It’s a lot of standing and dealing with people who aren’t the kindest and a lot of physical labor. Since we buy used books, we have to get them on the shelves quickly so people can find them and we also don’t want to crowd our aisles. Since there’s a lot of stuff, it can be really tiring to be lugging history books up and down ladders. We also to take in our clearance carts every night and put them out each morning which can be tiring, too. It is such a fun job because you also just…get to talk about books all day. But sometimes you come home and your feet just really hurt.

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

My least favorite bookstore task is sorting out the carts that we buy in. Basically, after we buy in books, there are people who price it, then they bring it to the info desk to sort it out and place it on the correct carts. Usually a couple of carts can come in at a time and it can be a little overwhelming to sort everything, place them on carts, and also field questions. I have a love-hate relationship with this though because sometimes when we sort I can shop a little haha. My favorite part is two fold. I love my co-workers. Anytime we get to chit chat between shelving or at the registers is always so fun to me and it’s honestly the best part of my day. But I also really love shelving. I find it to be really meditative because I get into the zone and can crank out some carts. It’s also super satisfying to see a cart clear out and a shelf fill up.

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

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has been a top seller since I’ve started working there, and I’d recommend Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman. Although it’s not a sapphic romance, it has a very similar vibe with the different uses of media and the Hollywood politics and glamor vibes. It’s also a slow burn romance that faces the tribulations of the politics of Hollywood. They both have this sentimental, carefully worded quality where everything in the books feel so thoughtful.

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

My favorite dedication is in an upcoming release, Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake by Mazey Eddings. it reads, “For anyone that’s been told they’re too loud. Too emotional. Too much. You are the perfect amount of enough.” I honestly got really teary when I read it and it coincided so beautifully with the main character.

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

Three Lives and Co! Back when I didn’t live in NYC and I used to just visit, I always loved to go to that bookstore. It’s quiet and small with a great selection of titles. The staff is so willing to give out recommendations and incredibly kind to everyone that enters.

Katie Holt is a bookseller at The Strand in New York City. You can also find her on bookstagram, @readinromance.