An interview with Natalie Freeman of Skylight Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

At Skylight we technically have *two* stores. We have our main store which is home to all of our fiction, genre books, and most of our nonfiction books. Then two doors down we have our Arts Annex with all of our graphic novels, design, music, film and other art books. The Annex is also home to our super rad zine collection, mostly curated by my colleague Alex. My favorite thing to do when I see Alex receiving and restocking in the Annex is to just ask him what’s new and what’s cool. We have zines by local authors/illustrators/artists and a lot of imported collections from around the world. I get lost in the zines everytime I walk back to my office and I’ve discovered so many cool things on those displays.

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

I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but judgment doesn’t always have to be bad! When I saw the cover art for the new editions of Juneau Black’s SHADY HOLLOW mystery series, I thought “Okay this book is going to be a good time!” And I wasn’t wrong! I always face these out in our mystery section and recommend them to anyone who’s looking for a fun read that feels like a cozy afternoon on the couch with a *perfect drinking temperature* cup of tea.

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

We do staff picks every month at Skylight, and this year I decided to feature kids, middle reader, and YA books for all of those (you can find all of our staff picks on our website!) But I’ve still been reading big kid books too! If I had to pick a recent new release, I’d recommend Jennette McCurdy’s memoir I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED. I read an early copy and finished it in like two days. My favorite memoirs are the ones where the author is so self-aware that you can feel it dripping off the page. Having been through lots of therapy and constantly working on discovering new things about myself, this book really blew me away. A blacklist pick would probably be A PSALM FOR THE WILD-BUILT, the first book in Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot series. I read this and the latest installment A PRAYER FOR THE CROWN-SHY while I was camping this summer and I couldn’t imagine a better place to read these beautiful little books about a traveling tea monk and their robot companion.

Do you have a strange customer story?

So much can happen in a day of consistently interacting with customers. One of my favorite interactions was when a customer came in looking for the new Melissa Febos book BODY WORK, but it was the day before it went on sale. The customer had just been in a class where Melissa was a guest speaker and she mentioned the book, so she had come to the store the next day to get it. I happened to have an advanced copy at my desk because I had been reading it, so I told the customer to hang out for a second and I’d be right back. I brought her the galley and let her have it since I was almost done. She emailed me a few days later saying she had already finished it. Those kinds of interactions only happen when everyone is in the right place at the right time, and it’s always so fun when it all works out.

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

I’m the assistant events manager at Skylight so I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of wonderful authors, and I also produce the Skylight Books Podcast so I’ve also gotten the opportunity to interview some of my personal favorite authors and illustrators. Earlier this year I interviewed Akwaeke Emezi about their YA novel BITTER, which was surreal and I still think about that conversation a lot.

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

Something that always seems to surprise people about working in a bookstore, at least our bookstore, is that every piece of the business happens HERE. If you order a book on our website and it says that it’s in stock, someone who works at the store is going to pull it off the shelf to fulfill your order. We have a very small (but mighty!) team that works on orders and shipping, and your order is also packaged and shipped by someone working at the store. Then we walk all of those packages across the street to the post office. The bookstore you’re shopping in is the place where all the magic happens!

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

My least favorite bookstore task is probably alphabetizing haha. It’s one of the most foundational tasks of working at a bookstore – you need to alphabetize things as you shelve, restock and maintain sections. But after the hustle and bustle of a day helping customers or working on events, my brain always has trouble remembering the alphabet.

My favorite part of working in a bookstore is definitely handselling. When I started working on the events team, I stopped working on the sales floor and I didn’t realize how much I would miss it! Whenever I happen to be bopping around the store and someone stops me to ask for help, I feel like a kid in a candy store. I love helping people find their next great read, it fills me with so much joy. My colleagues will also call me at my desk to see if I have time to help someone find a kids book, and that’s when I drop everything and I show up next door before they’ve even had a chance to hang up the phone.

Can you recommend an underrated read-a-like book for one of the store’s top titles?

I think that 99% of customers who have come into our store recently have read at least one Ottessa Moshfegh book. Sometimes they’ve read a few of her books and want to read another, or they’ve read one and liked it, but want to read another author before diving into her backlist. For anyone that loved or was thinking about reading DEATH IN HER HANDS, I always recommend Olga Tokarczuk’s DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD. They both have a character that inserts themselves into a whodunnit, plus DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD gives you a chance to read around the world (translated from the Polish) and spend some time with a cranky old lady who lives in a snowy cabin and loves astrology.

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

This book has a dedication, a few intros and many beginnings. I’ve thought about Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir IN THE DREAM HOUSE pretty much every single day since I first read it.

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

I grew up in Lakewood, CA and there was a used bookstore about 10 minutes away called Once Read Books. They’re located on a corner and whichever direction you approach from there are shelves and shelves of books outside the front doors. I spent countless hours sifting through their sections and always found piles of books to bring home. Now whenever I’m back in that area I always have to stop by. On my last trip I found an amazing book on Eliot Porter’s Appalachian wilderness photography and a handful of old regional cookbooks.

Natalie Freeman is the assistant events manager at Skylight Books in L.A.