1. What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?
I absolutely love spending time in our comfy areas upstairs with all the nice vintage armchairs and warm atmosphere. It can be so exciting to peruse the sci-fi and fantasy shelves up there, discovering authors I’d never heard of before. Our staff has such a wide variety of interests, we’re able to bring in a really diverse selection and show each other some of our lesser-known faves!
2. What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?
I will say that the book cover game has been on point these past couple years. There are so many interesting works of art and design gracing covers lately. Probably one of my favorites right now has been the cover for Olga Dies Dreaming: all rich and colorful just like the characters and the story.
3. If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?
I fell in love with Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (March 2021). I read it straight through in one night! So bittersweet and heartladen, with all the ruminations on human experience tucked under the lens of innocence and hopefulness. Then, one of my all-time favorite books would be either of Ted Chiang’s books of short stories (Story of Your Life & Others and Exhalation) Both have such a variety of perspectives layered in, including so many wonderfully unusual stories that touch on the deep strange questions one might have about identity, human-ness, relationships, and our place in the universe.
4. Do you have a strange customer story?
So many! As any bookseller will tell you, readers are a wild and wonderful bunch. One of the funniest is this guy who used to come in once or twice a week “looking for books to option for a movie”. He insisted that he was a movie producer/talent agent/international media tycoon and would come in dressed for the part hmm-ing and haw-ing over the books he wanted to license for his “next movie”. Of course he never left with a book and mostly stood around trying to flirt with the booksellers and other customers, giving out his card and offering to “represent” every pretty young femme he saw. If you hadn’t guessed already, none of his claims were true.
5. What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?
We have the privilege of hosting so many fascinating authors from small and large presses alike. At a recent event, I got the pleasure of meeting Melissa Lozada-Oliva (author of Dreaming of You) and Rax King (author of Tacky) in the same night. They had a really cool conversation about culture, poetry, the importance of storytelling, and a ton of relatable stuff that made us laugh. They were both really cool people too and it was a pleasure to hang out with them.
6. What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?
So many people come in and say “Oh, I wish I got paid to just sit around and read all day!” If only folks knew just how much work goes into independent bookselling: curating, organizing, and featuring books. The broad base of knowledge one needs, the careful attention to detail everything requires to create a positive and engaging space for readers to explore. Whether we’re on the floor or in the office, there’s never an idle moment. All our reading takes place at home or wherever we can squeeze it in! That said, at least here at Lost City Books, we have such a great relationship with each other that we still find times to party and be social together, which is a pretty rare experience.
7. What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?
Personally, my job requires a lot of sitting alone in the office at my desk and missing out on the activity and bustle of the floor. Another bookseller (in fact, many booksellers) might say that the least exciting task is shelving books. After a while of staring at the space and thinking about the alphabet, anyone’s brain would get a little fried. The best part really is having access to and being surrounded by books and book lovers every day. We get the first look at so many cool titles, we chat about them together, we get engrossed in really interesting conversations with the customers that come in. And of course the staff discount is a beautiful and dangerous thing 😉
8. Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?
One of my favorites that comes to mind is for our Young Adult readers who like The Hunger Games series: Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer series. Looking for a fantasy adventure about banding together with a diverse group of friends to heal generational trauma and unite the world in harmony–all while challenging power structures and harmful traditions? This is the book for you! It’s all about trusting in yourself and in the people close to you, stepping into your power and challenging injustice.
Shady Rose is the Events and Publicity Manager at Lost City Books in Washington, D.C.
Ellen Whitfield is senior publicist at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.