An interview with Tracey Duncan of Commonplace Reader

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area of our store is the Fiction room. This room is bathed in light from three beautiful old windows and there are wonderful mission chairs with perfectly worn cushions that one can sink into while they peruse. We want everyone to feel comfortable here, settle in, and find the perfect books for them. The chairs in this room embody that spirit to me.

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

I like to face out “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara because the photograph of the anguished man’s face is so striking and evokes such emotion! It definitely makes you want to read the book jacket to find out what’s behind that tortured visage.

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

The most recent new release I’ve read that I really enjoyed was “Elsewhere” by Alexis Schaitkin.This is the story of a woman and mother who seems to live in a strange, otherworldly place yet the trials and loss of self that mothers everywhere often experience is eerily the same. A backlist book that was similar and I truly enjoyed and highly recommend is “The New Wilderness” by Diane Cook.

Do you have a strange customer story?

I don’t have one in particular but we do have a strange/comical recurring customer interaction here at Commonplace Reader. Because of our store name, people often mistake us for a psychic/palm reading business! We stock some lovely tarot cards at the register for these patrons.

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

While the world was doing everything over Zoom during the pandemic, I got to attend a virtual event for the book, “In the Heights” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegria Hudes, and Jeremy McCarter. So when my husband and son’s walked into our house that evening, they saw me staring at a screen and (seemingly) talking to Lin-Manuel Miranda! So they were starstruck and impressed until they found out he couldn’t see me and I was just listening. It was still a fun event for sure.

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

The biggest misconception is that we get to sit and read while we’re here. We seldom have time to actually read while we’re at the store–there is always something we can be doing to help improve our store and our customer’s experience.

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

My least favorite task is shelving or removing books on the top shelves as I am vertically challenged and I need to haul out the stepstool. If my taller coworkers are nearby they’re always happy to help. My favorite part is always being familiar with the latest releases and all the opportunities to talk with others about them.

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

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig has been a top seller for our store and I would recommend “Oona Out of Order” by Margarita Montimore as a great readalike.

Tracey Duncan is a bookseller at Commonplace Reader in Yardley, PA.