An interview with D.J. Johnson of Baldwin and Co.

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?
The podcast studio

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

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?
The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

Do you have a strange customer story?
Yes, someone called and asked if we had a restroom.

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

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?
That it’s easy and you’re just sitting around reading all day.

What is your least favorite bookstore task?
Cleaning toilets

Favorite part about working in a bookstore?
Being surrounded by books all day and having access to read them all.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?
Think and Grow Rich/ The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke by Suze Orman.

D.J. Johnson is the owner of Baldwin and Co. in New Orleans.

An interview with Andi Richardson of Fountain Bookstore

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

Staff Picks! We all have such diverse (and excellent, of course) taste, you can find something for everyone there. It also changes constantly so there’s always something new. Mystery and YA are up there as well though.

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

I’m a sucker for a great cover! Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw, even though it scares some of my coworkers. It also makes a great pop socket! In non-terrifying covers, The One True Me and You by Remi K. England is gorgeous. Both books are also great!

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

We are events-focused so we have mainly books from the last couple of years on hand and don’t do a ton of backlist but I can say that I never tire of recommending Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby, Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore, or anything by Mindy McGinnis (but particularly her Poe inspired duology of The Initial Insult and The Last Laugh).

Do you have a strange customer story?

Thankfully our customers are generally amazing, but we did just have someone step outside of an event to be sick on our sidewalk, then come back in and sit down without saying a word.

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

Authors are all rock stars to me, so I geek out about pretty much everyone but my interviews with Joe Kenda and Norman Reedus had me nervous! I am also a longtime fan of Chevy Stevens and was so happy to discover that she is a delight to talk to. I also moderated a panel with Alyssa Cole and had to work very hard to keep from fangirling over her! Oh, and Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. Did I mention I love them all?

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

I’m sure everyone has the same answer – that we just read all day long! There’s no time to read – there are books to check in and put away, reviews to write, orders to ship, events to plan – it’s a great job but it’s a lot of physical and mental work.

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

Least favorite has to be dealing with the people that don’t understand why our pricing is higher than a certain online retailer – and want to argue about it. We’re also a pretty small store so finding room to put things is a challenge I struggle with. My favorite part by far is the community of people that books create! Fountain has been around almost as long as I’ve been alive and I am so proud to be part of its life and family. Book people are the very best people.

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

If someone liked Colleen Hoover’s Verity, I give them When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. It has a twist you won’t see coming, social commentary, and spicy bits that are just perfection to me. To be fair, When No One is Watching is probably my most handsold book ever so I’ll find a way to recommend it to you no matter what.

Andi Richardson is the general manager at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA.

An interview with Stefen Holtrey of Brilliant Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

The basement. Every bookstore should have a potentially haunted basement. We have a good one. Long, dark, deep and spooky. Horse drawn carriages used to be able to pull right down into the back for deliveries. There’s still a coal furnace just sitting down there. A single, final bucket of coal is right next to it. Close second: scifi and fantasy section.

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

Recently, it’s been Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The cover art by Pablo Gerardo Camacho is maddeningly beautiful. One that I’m excited to be able to feature is Eric Larocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke ,due out this September. Kim Jakobsson did the cover and it’s everything a horror cover should be.

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

My pick for new release would be The Employees by Olga Ravn. It’s exactly the kind of sci-fi I’m looking for these days; weird, suggestive, revelatory, and playful in its form. For a backlist pick, I’d have to go with Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. Towering, magisterial, mysterious in every way, it’s a masterpiece of imaginative literature. Warning: I’d put the MRMR stamp on this one (May Require Multiple Readings).

Do you have a strange customer story?

A man once came into the store wearing a bear suit. Full head with eyes, ears, teeth, a pair of lifelike paws and claws. It was floor-length with very believable fur. I was most worried when he went to the children’s section. I didn’t want him to scare the kids!

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

Garth Nix came to talk about his latest book a few years back. Never thought I could be starstruck by an author, but I was downright giddy to be able to speak to him. Sabriel was very important to me growing up.

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

It’s not all glitz and glamor. There’s blood and tears in the aisles between those shelves. We work long and hard down in the book mines to auger up those precious gems for our discerning customers. But in the end, they make it all worthwhile. That, and the employee discount.

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

So, I come from the food service world (former barista), and I have to say that my favorite part of the job is the sense of serenity and repose that goes along with selling books. I’m allowed to be thoughtful. There’s no split-second, do-it-all-at-once, mind-splitting anxiety to contend with. That said, there’s nothing like the white-hot thrill of finding someone that perfect book. Least favorite thing: answering the phone. It’s the worst.

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

If you enjoyed Sheila Heti’s Pure Color, I would recommend The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz. These works both share a certain sensitivity towards, and inclusion of, the fantastic as an exploration of the mundane, especially when it comes to family. Stylistically, they both revel in the aphoristic effect; the small explosion of insight and image, similar to the shorter works of Kafka, except with more heart, and less anxiety.

Stefen Holtry is a bookseller at Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan.

Books Forward BFFs June Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the June 2022 newsletter here!

An interview with Katherine D. Morgan of Powell’s Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area is definitely the romance section! I’ve always loved reading romance, but since the pandemic, I have become obsessed with that genre. In fact, in my store, you can usually find me giving customers or my colleagues recommendations on what they should read next. I have other favorites, such as the young adult and memoir section as well, but romance has my heart, pun intended.

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

As someone who (unapologetically) judges a book by their cover, one that I always smile at is Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. It is truly stunning, and it is nice to see a book about a trans teen get such a joyful and bright cover.

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

My favorite recent pick is This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. It’s the perfect novel to read when you’re reflecting on your relationships with the people that you love. You should read it after watching Everything Everywhere All at Once because it’s definitely a trip. For a backlist choice, I always recommend Starfish by Lisa Fipps because it’s a middle reader that everyone should read, whether or not they have been bullied for their appearance. I read it and then promptly walked home and cried. It’s excellent.

Do you have a strange customer story?

I once handed a lady a book that she ordered, and she looked at me stunned. She flipped through the book and remarked, “I thought there were supposed to be photos in this book.” When I told her that there weren’t, she groaned and said, “Ugh, now I’m disappointed. I didn’t expect to actually read a book.”

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

I actually work on the events team at Powell’s, so meeting authors is something that I love doing. I have gotten to meet so many wonderful people, including David Sedaris (who later let me open for him twice at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall once he found out that I’m also a writer), Samantha Irby, and recently, Putsata Reang, who wrote the memoir Ma and Me, which came out earlier this month. Writers to me (and to many of the people who attend our events) are like rockstars, so I get quite giddy when I meet someone who excites me.

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

Oh, God, there are so many. People tend to think that working in a bookstore is so exciting, and while there are so many wonderful things about it, it’s still retail, and it’s still customer service. Another thing that people seem to be confused about? I don’t set the prices. It’s okay if you can’t afford the item, but please, don’t tell me that it’s too expensive. I can’t do anything about it.

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

My least favorite bookstore task is shelving. I can do it for an hour or so, but any longer, and I forget the order of the alphabet. My favorite part is talking about books and working events. I love meeting people, and I love learning about new genres. So I guess that people are technically my favorite part about working in a bookstore. Oh, the discount. The discount is a godsend.

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

If you’re a fan of What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon, then you can’t go wrong by picking up Hunger by Roxane Gay or Heavy by Kiese Laymon. Both are excellent. Actually, buy all three and make it a bundle for a friend.

Katherine D. Morgan is a bookseller at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.

An interview with Anna Galachyan of Children’s Book World

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite favorite thing inside the store is our PoetTree! It’s been a really cool way to give our community a physical presence in the store, and I love reading the poems that customers write.

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

I’m a sucker for lush, detailed covers. Some favorites are All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue, The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera, and Mina by Matthew Forsythe.

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

Dog and Hat and the Lost Polka Dots is a delightfully unhinged new graphic novel about an anthropomorphic dog who loses the polka dots on his sweater and goes on an underground adventure to find them with his sentient hat friend. On the other end of the spectrum, I also love Moonwalking by Lynn Miller-Lachmann and Zetta Elliott. It’s a dual-perspective verse novel set in ’80s Brooklyn, and follows a pair of boys who become very unlikely friends. Super lovely.

A backlist favorite is The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, an adorable graphic novel about a prince who moonlights as a fashion icon and the young seamstress he contracts to secretly design his outfits.

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

I got to meet E. Lockhart/Emily Jenkins when she came to sign some books for us recently, and 12-year old me was freaking out. I even had some ancient editions of her books that I asked her to sign. That was pretty cool!

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

The main misconception is that reading is a big part of our daily responsibilities — in reality, we don’t often have a chance to read at work. We do love getting to talk about books with customers, though!

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

Moderating mask etiquette has quickly become my least favorite bookstore task. Before that, wrestling with packing tape was a big one. Packing tape is my enemy. My favorite thing to do at work is readers’ advisory — I love helping kids (and adults) find new reads they feel excited about!

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

Our most popular title of 2022 so far is New From Here by Kelly YangShooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, is a really lovely underrated book, and a good readalike. Shooting Kabul follows a boy named Fadi whose family moved to a small California town from Afghanistan shortly before 9/11. In addition to adjusting to life in his new town and fielding a lot of anti-Islamic sentiment, he decides to join a photography competition with a cash prize to try and fund a trip back to Kabul to search for his little sister who was separated from their family while they fled. This one doesn’t get as much love as I wish it did!

Anna Galachyan is a floor manager at Children’s Book World in LA.

An interview with Kim Bissell of Broadway Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

I love the picture book section! We are primarily a store for adults and so our children’s section isn’t very large, but we try to be well curated. We have a side slatted wall of some of the best well-loved picture books available. There are so many richly illustrated stories filled with the sadness and grace of humanity and some that are just for FUN! It’s my favorite spot to stop and have a good read or chuckle.

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

I love the cover of debut novelist Juhea Kim’s fabulous new book Beasts of a Little Land. It’s an incredible mélange of two paintings. One a historical landscape of the mountains of Korea and the other a fanciful depiction of a wild tiger. The spectacular design is by Allison Saltzman, senior designer of Harper’s Ecco Books with art created by Jasmijn Solange Evans. I also love Tarana Burke’s recent memoir of starting the Me, Too movement – Unbound, published by Flatiron books. The cover is an image of a quilt of Burke done by artist Bisa Butler, who is one of the finest artists in America today.

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

My favorite new title is Chelsea Bieker’s collection of short stories, Heartbroke. The candy-filled image on the cover is just the beginning, a sweet intro to the crafted stories inside that are full of innocence lost. Described as “refreshingly unsentimental and relentlessly compassionate”, Bieker rips out your heart and hands it back to you smarter and thicker. It’s really, really good.

As for an older pick, I’m still a lover of anything by Elizabeth Strout. She had me at Olive Kitteredge and has kept my attention with every further story from Lucy Barton’s home town of Amgash, Ill. Strout’s ability to gently lead you to a character, show you their worst qualities and still allow you to appreciate them is a mark of her true talent.

Do you have a strange customer story?

It’s always such a kick when a famous author or local literati drop in for shopping and either surprises us or blushes when we gush over them. Kevin Kwan came by to sign books when he was in town and is a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed (we’re her local bookstore and offer personalized copies) and we had a fan fest on both sides of the counter. He’s a really lovely guy and his books are so fun.

What author have you been starstruck to meet?

We were lucky enough to host a book club meeting with Michelle Obama when she was on tour for Becoming. The conversation went on for over an hour and she made a point to really listen to how the book had touched all the club member’s lives. She is such a warm and intelligent person and we were ALL starstruck.

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

I know you’ve heard this before, but that all we do is READ! Running a small business is challenging under normal circumstances and has been complicated so much more by the pandemic. We are thankful for our lovely customers and their commitment to buying local. And while we all love reading we sometimes need more hours in the day to tackle our bedside stacks.

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

Perhaps they are the same! It’s always such a disappointment to have to tell a customer that we are unable to get a book they are interested in reading. Although, when we can solve the puzzle and make someone’s day, it’s sheer joy!

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

Anne Lamott has been an elixir for so many folks during the pandemic and her books are treasured by our customers. I think if you like Lamott, you’ll LOVE Brian Doyle. His good friend, David James Duncan help craft some of his best essays in a posthumous collection entitled A Long River of Song and it’s just wonderful to read and re-read. It’s a perfect collection to help understand all of life’s blessings and challenges

We also sell a lot of the amazing Margaret Atwood and particularly A Handmaid’s Tale. Similar in topic and also masterfully written is Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks.

Kim Bissell is the Co-Owner of Broadway Books in Portland, OR.

An interview with Emilie Sommer of East City Bookshop

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

It’s hard to pick, but my first true love is always fiction. In all sections of our store, but especially in fiction, we try to make sure that we have the books that people walk in looking for, but also lesser known titles that they didn’t know they wanted. We always want people to find what they need as well as discover something new. I feel like that happens routinely in Fiction. My other favorite section is Biography and Memoir. I gravitate toward personal stories about dealing with trauma and grief, and I also love celebrity memoirs!

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

Right now it’s Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen Kirby. It’s a wild, bold cover that has definitely sold some copies.

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

For a recent release, I’d pick The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. It’s a tiny book, but it packs a huge punch. I love its structure — it begins in the first person plural with a group of swimmers at a community pool, then moves in closer and closer to become an intimate story about one of them — and I love Otsuka’s writing.
For backlist, I’ll pick a book that has been a favorite ever since I first read it in the late 90s: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore. My favorite micro-genre might be “an adult looks back at a formative adolescent friendship” and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? is just a masterpiece. More recent examples of that form are The Girls from Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thorpe, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida, Marlena by Julie Buntin, and Bewilderness by Karen Tucker. Anytime someone mentions that they loved one of those, I press Who Will the Run the Frog Hospital? into their hands.

Do you have a strange customer story?

I only have a couple of strange ones and I’m not sure I’ll put them in writing… but I have so, so many wonderful ones! There are a million great things about being a bookseller but becoming friends with customers is high on the list. I’ve made some true, treasured friends out of customers and I’m so grateful.

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

We hosted a wonderful virtual event with Jessica Anya Blau for her novel Mary Jane (a delight, now out in paperback) and she was in conversation with Nick Hornby. The first night I met my husband, we discussed how much we loved High Fidelity, and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch is the sole reason my husband and son are ardent Arsenal supporters. I almost got choked up telling him that his books have been central to the creation of my family.

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

I bet every bookseller says something similar: people think we get to sit around and read all day. Sadly, that is just not true. If it were true, it would mean our store was not very busy, and that would be sad. I’m actually glad that we are too busy to read during work because it means the shop is doing well.

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

Least favorite part: boxes of books are VERY heavy! Favorite: The sheer magic of putting the right book in the right person’s hands at the right time. There are lots of other favorites, too — getting advanced copies of highly anticipated books, getting to meet authors, getting to know editors, and — as I mentioned before — our super customers.

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

This is more of a companion recommendation than a readalike, but hear me out! Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain continues to sell well for us, and for every person who purchases that (or Dopesick by Beth Macy, or Dreamland by Sam Quinones), I want to recommend Liz Moore’s Long Bright River. I love to pair a novel alongside non-fiction, and there’s no better book about the devastation of addiction. Long Bright River is a mystery, but it’s also, I believe, the great American novel about our opiate/opioid epidemic — an unforgettable, staggering achievement that I can’t ever recommend enough.

Emilie Sommer is a book buyer at East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C.

Books Forward BFFs May Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the May 2022 newsletter here!

An interview with Michelle Lewis of Third Eye Books

 

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

The children’s section is by far my favorite. I love the covers of the children’s books, and the stories for the little ones are fun, and the illustrations are amazingly beautiful.

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

Rhianna’s book is super large – it weighs about 10 pounds. The size and her beautiful eyes catches everyone’s attention!

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

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and Born On the Water

Backlist pick?
The Portland Black Panthers

Do you have a strange customer story?

People coming up and literally staring at us through our store window as if they’re confused and then walking away – it happens at least a few times a week. Also people get us confused with the Third Eye Shoppe that used to be on Hawthorne. Our store name has “books” in it and folks still come in at least a few times a week looking for glassware and tie dyed T-shirts.

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

We LOVE LOVE LOVE Portland’s own David Walker, an Eisner Award Winner! He wrote the The Black Panther Party Graphic Novel, plus much more!

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

That we’ve read every book that is in our store and we know every author. We have to remind some of our customers that 12,000+ books are released every Tuesday – it’s impossible to keep up with and read every new and/backlist book out there.

What is your least favorite bookstore task?

Inventory 😩

Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

Talking to our customers and ordering cool new books… we love unpacking new books.

Can you recommend an underrated book?

We recommend No God Like The Mother by Keisha Ajose Fisher. She is a local author and the 2020 Oregon Book Award Winner for fiction.

Michelle Lewis is the owner of Third Eye Books in Portland, Oregon.