An interview with Nicole Brinkley of Oblong Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

All of it! I love our bookstore. But if I had to choose just one area, I really love our kids section. It’s open, airy, and full of beautiful and colorful books. I love seeing kids get excited about something new to read, so watching them run around and show off what they want to get is the best.

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

I love a slightly creepy cover, so I am constantly falling in love with beautiful, oversized, stylized nonfiction books like Gothic and Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us. There’s just something really cool about books that feel like art pieces in-and-of themselves.

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

Most of the staff picks at our store are backlist! It’s never too late to discover a good book. One of my favorite backlist picks is This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, a sapphic time-travel novella following two time agents on opposite sides of a time war. I don’t think I have words that will do this book justice. I recommend reading in snippets or risk drowning in its gorgeous prose.

And one of my more favorite recent titles is The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston! I adore a good romance and adore a good fantasy, and The Dead Romantics manages to be both. This spectral romance is a balm to the spirit. When writer Florence Day has to return home for an unexpected funeral, she’s surprised to find herself visited by the ghost of… her stoic, too-handsome editor Ben. Romance readers will want Florence and Ben to haunt their shelves after reading: it’s soulful, punny, whimsical, and death defyingly romantic.

Do you have a strange customer story?

Oh, so many! But one of our favorites is the story of the ghost cane. A beautiful old wooden cane appeared in our store without its owner. We put it in our lost-and-found box and waited a little while to see if the owner would come and retrieve it. They didn’t! Upon further glance, there was a phone number on the cane. So we figured: hey, why not call it and see if the owner of the cane would like it back?

The phone number led us to a lovely lady in California, who—very confused but kind—explained that the cane belonged to her husband… who had died six months previously.
We have no idea how it got into the store. Apparently, a ghost wanted to do a little shopping.

What author have you been starstruck to meet?

I feel really lucky that we’ve hosted a whole bunch of my favorite authors, but the only one I ever got starstruck around was Alan Cumming! We hosted him at an offsite (bookseller jargon for an event not in the actual bookstore store; it’s not big enough for that crowd!) and I got to help him set up and sign books and chat with him. He’s so charismatic and charming in person that I suspect he might actually be fae folk. An absolute gem.

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

We don’t sit around reading! There’s always something to do. There’s customers to ring out, web orders to fill, books to receive, shelves to organize, displays to make, dogs to pet… the list is endless.

What is your favorite part about working in a bookstore?

I love, love, love handselling books to customers. There is no greater joy than connecting somebody to a book that they end up loving – especially if you loved it, too! Since some of my specialities are kids books and queer books, it’s especially a privilege to be able to connect young folks or traditionally underrepresented folks to a book that really speaks to them. It’s the reason I never want to leave bookselling: there’s no other experience like it, and I don’t ever want to give it up.

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

Oh, Oblong — like every bookstore — sells a ton of kids graphic novels. If you (or your kiddo) love the Dogman series by Dav Pilkey, you should try the InvestiGators series by John Green. (It’s alligators, in vests, doing investigating!) If Babysitter’s Club is more your jam, pick up Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright, about two twin girls who decide to compete against each other to become class president! And if you love fantasy graphic novels like The Witch Boy, you simply must pick up Star Knights by Kay Davault, a charming woodland fantasy about embracing who you are and looking past the differences of others.

Nicole Brinkley is a manager with Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY.