Interview with Gary Roby of Mysterious Galaxy

1. What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

Definitely our Star Wars section! What used to be a small part of our general “media tie-ins” shelf has now grown into a full fledged section of it’s own, with all the new canon titles kept in stock, as well as a growing collection of old EU books!

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

The deluxe edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the prettiest hardcovers, plus those blue sprayed edges are just so gorgeous.

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

This one is actually still upcoming, but I recently finished John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society (out next month) and it was such a delightful read, with fun characters advocating for the protection of these massive creatures unlike anything we’ve encountered on Earth before. As for a backlist pick, I’m now on my second listen of Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast; it’s a quaint look at philosophy and how we view the world around us. It also helps that the audiobook is read by Patrick Warburton, who brings so much character to the narration. I can’t get enough of it.

4. Do you have a strange customer story?

There are several I can think of, but most recently we had a customer come in who was very concerned about The Wheel of Time television series because he didn’t believe any of the people cast in the show would actually be proficient sword fighters. The series is not about sword fighting.

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

Very early in my time at Mysterious Galaxy, we had George R.R. Martin in to sign some stock one morning before the store opened. I got to work after he had already finished signing, and he was sitting aside with his assistant doing something on his phone. I was too nervous to approach him.

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

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed has to do with our work at conventions. Whenever San Diego Comic-Con comes around, folks like to tell us about how lucky we are, and how jealous they are, that we get to go to the convention, and like, SDCC is nice, but it’s also one of the most exhausting things we do during the year. I don’t think people understand how much work goes on behind the scenes in the weeks, and months, leading up to the event in order to coordinate all of our inventory and signings and other shenanigans we have to prepare for before the convention even begins.

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

My absolute least favorite task has to be returns on strippable titles. For people who don’t know, publishers allow bookstores to return overstock titles back to the distributor for credit, but books are heavy and they’re expensive to ship. Because of this, many publishers have titles that are designated as “strippable” books; what qualifies as strippable varies by publisher, but they tend to be most mass market paperbacks. For these, the covers are torn off and returned to the publisher as evidence the book was destroyed and will not be sold, and bookstores are instructed to recycle the book after. I cannot help but feel like a monster every time I have to tear the cover off a book, no matter how many times I’ve had to do it.
On the other hand, my favorite task is almost certainly receiving new titles. Each week we get dozens of boxes from publishers filled with brand new titles just waiting to go out on the floor. I love being the person to go through those boxes and hold those books in my hands before anyone else!

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

The one book I’ll never stop shouting at our customers to read is The Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons. As a genre fiction bookstore, we get so many readers who love epic fantasy novels by authors like Brandon Sanderson or Patrick Rothfuss, and it delights me every time to put a new series in their hands. The Ruin of Kings is by far one of my favorite fantasy novels of the last several years, filled with footnotes and family trees and appendices, it’s everything I love in epic fantasy and Jenn Lyon’s characters are all so vibrant and interesting! The final book in the series, The Discord of Gods, is out in April and I cannot wait for everyone to read it!

Gary Roby is the Inventory Manager/Store Receiver at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego.