An interview with Mel Beatty of Curious Iguana

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

For pure aesthetics, our children’s section is just marvelous! The back of the store is enclosed in a little tiki hut, which holds our board books, picture books and emergent readers section. Just outside is our middle grade and YA. I’m also just a LITTLE biased, because that’s where my own books–HEARTSEEKER, RIVERBOUND and soon, TELL THE TRUTH, PANGOLIN, are!
But sci-fi/fantasy is my soul section — it’s where I do most of my reading! In our store, this section is housed on a huge baker’s cart, front and back and it’s the area I do most of my recommendations from!

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

If I have a chance to face out Kira Jane Buxton’s HOLLOW KINGDOM, I will. It’s not only one of my favorite books of the last five years, but it has an electric green cover that draws the customer’s eye and gives me a chance to flail over it. Nine times out of ten, if I explain what the book is about—a foulmouthed, sentient crow navigating a zombie apocalypse with his dog friend, Dennis, the customer is going to walk out with it in their bag.

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

I’ve been hand-selling TELL ME AN ENDING by Jo Harkin a lot — it’s a good book to spark introspection and conversation between readers. Set in a speculative world where the Nepenthe Corporation has found a way to remove traumatic memories, it follows five characters who come at the issue from different angles. (Dollars to donuts it’s going to be a great book club pick when it comes out in paperback) One of my favorite backlist picks is MASTER OF DJINN by P. Djeli Clark, set in an alternate 1912 Cairo full of magic and free of colonizing forces.

Do you have a strange customer story?

Honestly, most of my strange customer stories come from my time as a Borders bookseller just after I graduated from college. There were a lot of folks who liked to object to our selections in over the top ways, such as book-throwing and public temper tantrums. Thankfully, our clientele at my current job are spectacularly well behaved!

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

Not only have we had a lot of absolutely fantastic author events associated with the store, (Chelsea Clinton, Jaqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander) we’re also lucky that the town we’re located in has a yearly speaker and author series that we set up shop at. We’ve been privileged enough to have folks like Bill Bryson, David Sederis and Kate DiCamillo come through, but for me, meeting Neil Gaiman was probably my biggest stars-in-my-eyes moment!

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

It would have to be the “sitting around reading all day” myth. There is WAY too much to do to have time to stand still long enough to read. There’s always a customer to help, a shipment to receive, displays to make, shelf-talkers to write or dusting to do!

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

Probably the aforementioned dusting! It’s sneeze fuel. But my favorite things to do are to make displays and do our weekly chalkboards. It give me an outlet for my crafty nature and lets me contribute to the aesthetic of the shop. And of course, I love interacting with customers, sending them home with JUST the right book!

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

One of our top titles last week was CULTISH: THE LANGUAGE OF FANATICISM by Amanda Montell. I loved this book and found it endlessly fascinating to see what linguistic devices cults, organizations, mlms and advertisers use in order to ensnare people in their ideology. Montell’s previous backlist book, WORDSLUT, talks about how the English language evolved to marginalize women over the centuries and how by changing the way we speak, we can change the way we think.

Mel Beatty is a bookseller at Curious Iguana in Frederick, MD.