An interview with Vanessa Deubler of Madison Street Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area of the bookstore is our staff pick wall. There’s such a variety of books on there, all well-recommended by my coworkers, and it’s right by our front windows.

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

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc has my favorite cover ever. The design is striking and creepy, but there are also these little faces throughout that you can only really see when they reflect the light. It’s great for a display.

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

A recent new release I read and loved is Bliss Montage by Ling Ma. It’s only the second book of short stories I’ve ever read! For a backlist pick, I can’t decide between The Grip of It by Jac Jemc and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Do you have a strange customer story?

So, so many. Recently at an event I had a customer ask me about the color of my sweater and then make arguments for both sides about whether it was pink or purple. He was nice, it was just funny.

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

We’ve had a lot of really cool events, and some with really big authors, but my favorite event so far was the book launch for Shirlene Obuobi, MD, who wrote On Rotation! We had a lot of people show up and there were cake and giveaways. It was really fun and everyone was so friendly! I also really enjoy the poetry events.

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

We don’t wear aprons, contrary to what Joe from You will have you believe. Besides that, I don’t know! I think it might be a little romanticized. It’s not all discussing poetry while dust floats through shafts of light. There is some of that, but you also lift a lot of boxes, shelve a lot of books, and carry a lot of chairs.

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

I love having events but setting up for them and putting everything away is not my favorite. Other than that, I don’t really mind anything in particular unless there’s a lot of it, which can get tiring. But the best parts, by far, are getting to talk about books all day, picking books out for our bespoke subscription recipients, and recommending books to customers, especially when we have similar reading tastes.

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

I’d recommend Dear Child by Romy Hausmann for anyone who read and liked The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. Also The Grip of It by Jac Jemc is another great haunted house story for the folks who love Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

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

That’s a really good question! I can think of a few, but my favorite line ever is actually the last line of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which, after a book that takes place over the course of World War II, ends with Death saying, “I am haunted by humans.”

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

I recently went to Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago and loved it! It’s definitely strange being a bookseller in a bookstore that isn’t your own. I turned around every time the phone rang. I’m also dying to go to Dog Eared Books Valencia in San Francisco, just as a side note.

Vanessa Deubler is a bookseller at Madison Street Books in Chicago.