Interview with Kate Czyzewski from Thunder Road Books

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

My favorite area of the bookstore has to be our children’s section. Though it heavily competes with our movable wooden ladder (so cool!). Nothing makes me happier than when the young children come bursting through the door and run straight back to grab a book they’ve been itching to read. We also have a daily activity table that mirrors our weekly storytime theme. Kids know it is a space just for them and a space where they can be creative. It’s a great feeling to see how much time our families spend there together.

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

At Thunder Road Books, it’s been important to us to curate books that you may not see in the mainstream everyday. Right now, I love seeing Immortal Axes, Guitars That Rock by Lisa S. Johnson. Our theme is “flicks, books and rock and roll.” Also, during opening weekend, we had a customer special order Booze and Vinyl with us. Now, it’s a staple gift item for the store.  Seeing books that speak so much to the creative vision behind music and art is both aesthetically pleasing and also deep in history!

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

New release: I can not recommend Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson enough! Jeff Cook, now an art dealer, runs into a former UCLA classmate at the airport. When their flight is delayed, the two decide to grab drinks and catch up. What starts out as a casual, “What have you been up to since college?” quickly becomes Jeff divulging how a life-changing moment altered his path to this day. Jeff, while at the beach one afternoon, comes to the rescue of a drowning man. Unbeknownst to him, the man he saves is Francis Arsenault, world renowned art dealer and begins to insert himself in the life of the art dealer. Obsession, psychological suspense- this one packed a punch!

Backlist pick: There are so many incredible backlist picks I’d love to share with you, but I’d like to share with you a New Jersey author, Julie Maloney, and her book A Matter of Chance. Julie Maloney’s talent lies not only in her development of suspense and engagement, but in her character development. Here is a novel whose secondary characters drew me in just as much as the protagonist. I also loved all the NJ references! Us Jersey gals stick together! Julie’s author event led me to meet Thunder Road Books’ owner, Basil Iwanyk and now I manage the store. I love how much the book community connects with one another!

4. Do you have a strange customer story? 

Oh yes, that I do!  We were awarded the privilege of selling Sir Paul McCartney’s Lyrics book, the exclusive signed and numbered edition. Our store chose to hold an auction and proceeds were donated to our local fire company. In our planning stage for the auction, we had a customer who called, asking for the manager pretty much daily for almost 2 months straight about this book. The mistake we made was telling him who the manager was because that was it. Voicemails and phone calls each day. At one point,  he felt he was so deserving of the book, he shared with us the “visions” he had that Sir Paul McCartney himself felt this book should be his. He gave us quite the entertainment (and at times, frustration) that can be associated with being a retail store!

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

I have been a long time fan of Fiona Davis. She’s an auto-buy author for me and her works of historical fiction are superb in their research and execution.  I had the pleasure of meeting her in person when she was touring for The Chelsea Girls and again when she toured for The Lions of Fifth Avenue. For her newest release, The Magnolia Palace, Thunder Road Books will be hosting her in February at the Spring Lake Theatre.  We were looking for an author to be her panelist, but some plans changed. I am so honored to be jumping in as her panelist for the evening. To say this is a full circle moment and a dream come true is an understatement. I do not take any of our connections to authors for granted. To be in conversation with an author I have long admired and be able to share the joy of her stories with our readers is something I will forever cherish.

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

I love this question! So many of my non reader friends say to me all the time, “It must be nice to sit at work and read all day.” Well, I wish that were the case! Actually, I’ve read less this year since I started working at the bookstore. It brings such joy to be here each day, but it’s also working with our owner, Basil, in running the day to day business. A business has jobs that need to be done, phone calls, invoices, website content, social media tasks, booking events, running to the bank for change!  In order to bring our readers the best titles and recommendations, that takes time, curation and proper ordering. We are still learning as both Basil and I were not booksellers in our previous career paths. He still runs the successful Thunder Road Films and I was a special education teacher for some years. Bookselling has been a learning curve for us and we are continuing to soak up all the advice from fellow booksellers!

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

Oh my gosh, the BOXES! Getting deliveries is great because you get to see what’s coming out to share with readers, however, during our holiday rush, we carried countless boxes down the street and up the stairs to our office/storage space. I definitely get a physical workout working here. Who would have thought? My favorite part of working at the bookstore is our customers and community. Nothing makes me happier than when a customer comes in and says I absolutely loved that book that you and/or your staff recommended to me. It’s great to be reading along with our community. Now, instead of talking my husband’s ear off about what I’m reading, I have people who want to chat about that everyday! I also love our weekly storytime readings. Reading to children is where my heart will always be. Starting their reading habits at a young age is the greatest gift an adult can give.

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

One of the most incredible books of 2021 was Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End. THIS BOOK. Part drama, part mystery, part family saga. This book took my heart and then broke it and then put it back together again. When friends have asked me to describe my “go-to” book genre, I usually say books that leave me a mess and need to put me back together.  We Begin at the End is one that will stay with me for a long time. I felt that way about Wiley Cash’s This Dark Road to Mercy. Released in 2014, it was one of my book club’s first picks and we still talk about it to this day. The story of two sisters whose mother passed away and the girls end up in the care of a court appointed legal guardian. The story is narrated from the girls’ perspective, the guardian, and the father that signed away his parental rights. A vendetta surfaces as more information about the father’s past is uncovered. This one left me in awe and needs to be read more!

Katherine Czyzewski is a store manager and bookseller at Thunder Roads Books in Spring Lake, NJ.