Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

Author Interview: Anne Helen Petersen on Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

headshot of Anne Helen Petersen

In the past several months, we have been interviewing people in the book world with interesting perspectives on current events. This month KJ talked with Anne Helen Petersen, author of the new book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Ms. Petersen is a former academic & professor, now culture writer with two previous non-fiction books and a long tenure writing cultural and political analysis at Buzzfeed. She currently writes “Culture Study,” a newsletter through Substack.

What brought you to the subject of specifically Millennial burnout? Do you think the stressors of COVID-19 have exacerbated or intensified feelings of burnout in this or any generation?

It’s pretty straightforward: I’m a millennial, and I’d been burnt out for years — but didn’t understand what I was experiencing as burnout, because I’d always thought that burning out meant hitting a wall and, like, collapsing. I prided myself on being able to just keep doing the work, no matter my exhaustion and stress. When I finally figured out what was going on, it was only because I was able to expand the definition to describe a feeling that I think so many in our generation feels — the result of great instability/precarity and the feeling of needing to work all the time to counteract it.

COVID has only exacerbated and amplified existing burnout. Everyone I know who was exhausted before the pandemic now feels like they’re barely holding it together — especially parents. I think that before COVID, many had become pretty adept at ignoring some of the larger structural brokenness in society and trying to patch some of the holes in the social safety net. Now there’s no more pretense: something’s very broken, and we have to get pissed off enough to fix it.

In a recent newsletter on your Substack, you examined how the vocational awe affects the essential workers it venerates, specifically in the context of librarians. Earlier this year, we talked with Callan Bignoli, a librarian-activist for front-line workers amidst the stuttered re-opening of libraries. Can you speak to how vocational awe, librarians, and burnout meet?

The short answer to this question is that vocational awe creates an aura of do-goodness around a job that does two pretty crappy things. First, it makes it so that the vocation as a whole becomes reticent to self-critique: it’s so essential, so good, so venerated in society, that there’s not much room to figure out what’s maybe not so good (and causing burnout!) within it. Fobazi Ettarh’s seminal piece does an excellent job of pointing to how vocational awe amongst librarians has allowed the profession to just stick with the status quo of maintaining implicit whiteness (and white standards of behavior, of learning, of speech, whatever) within library-related and librarian-related spaces.

But then it also allows people outside of the profession to dismiss very real demands, on the part of librarians, for things like adequate funding, health care, and support for dealing with the myriad jobs that each librarian is now tasked with performing. If you ask for more, it’s somehow viewed as indicative of a lack of passion, or a lack of appropriate awe for the job. This mindset is preposterous and yet truly ubiquitous.

Much of your work—in print and at your former time at Buzzfeed—has dealt with gender. Did you find a similar focus when researching and writing your newest book?

I think a large percentage (but certainly not all!) of my readership are women, and speaking VERY broadly, women are more willing to elaborate on some of their feelings about various issues. They’re also super angry about persistent inequalities in domestic labor, and I think that really comes through in the millennial parenting chapter. But in general: I’m a feminist, my work is feminist, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to keep drawing attention to the insidious ways that patriarchy makes life (for men and women) more miserable than it needs to be.

How is your personal library organized?

It is a very complex and very sophisticated mix of general subject area and aesthetic. All of my Penguin Classics live together, for example, and all of my academic texts from my PhD. But then, I’ll admit, there are areas that are all relatively new fiction with blue and green dust jackets. It pleases me!

What are some books you’ve read lately that you would recommend?

A few books that have pulled me out of my Covid-related difficulties with reading: Miriam Toews’ Irma Voth, Diane Cook’s The New WildernessBrit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Niall William’s This is Happiness.

Anne Helen Petersen can be found on Substack, Twitter, and of course her author page here on LibraryThing.

Browse all of our interviews here

 

 

Labels: author interview, interview, Uncategorized

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Author Interview: Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager on The Writer’s Library

Tim interviewed Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager, authors of The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives. Nancy Pearl is, of course, the Seattle librarian, author of numerous books, action-figure model, and regular contributor on NPR. Jeff Schwager is a writer, editor, producer, playwright—and book lover.

If there is a “LibraryThing book,” The Writer’s Library is it! LibraryThing members may or may not be interested in a given book, but we are always interested in books! The Writer’s Library is, essentially, a whole book going deep on author’s reading history, personal libraries and recommendations. I loved it. I hope you enjoy the interview!

TIM: What sorts of books did you read as children?

NANCY: I grew up in a home that we’d now call dysfunctional, but to me, back when I was a kid, it was just not an easy place to be, so I spent all my time at my local public library – the Parkman branch of the Detroit Public Library system. Miss Frances Whitehead was the children’s librarian, my librarian, and she fed my insatiable need to escape through books. I read, when she met me at about age 8 or 9, only horse and dog books, but she soon expanded my reading into books like The Hobbit, Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, all the Rosemary Sutcliff books, and all of the Newbery Award titles. Of course, I continued reading all the horse and dog books too. It was because Miss Whitehead saved me from total despair that I became a children’s librarian, because, at age 10, I wanted to do for other kids exactly what she did for me: gave me the world of books.

JEFF: From an early age I remember loving mysteries. I read Two Minute Mysteries and Encyclopedia Brown, followed by all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot books.

TIM: Was there a book that made the turn for you into adult reading?

Nancy Pearl

NANCY: The first book I ever checked out from the adult section of the library was Gone with the Wind, and I loved it. Another adult novel I checked out early on was called The Headland, by Carol Ryrie Brink. I remember taking it from the bookshelf because I was familiar with the author, from having read Caddie Woodlawn and Family Grandstand, and all her other books.

JEFF: For me it was a paperback of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald called Babylon Revisited and Other Stories. I started on a rainy afternoon in high school with the story “Winter Dreams,” which is a sort-of early version of The Great Gatsby about idealized and therefore doomed first love. What hit me, other than the heroine, who was a composite of every girl I lusted after in high school, and the hero, who was almost as pathetic as I was, was the beauty of the writing, the amazing musical flow of the sentences. That’s still the thing I respond to most fervently in my reading. 

TIM: You’re both fine writers in different genres. Do you have any advice for other writers?

NANCY: Whenever I’m asked this question, I’m reminded of what Ernest Gaines once said in a talk at the Seattle Public Library when he was asked the same question: “I have eight words of advice: read read read read write write write write.” It’s hard for me to imagine how someone can be a great—or even good—writer without being a reader. And I think that comes through in the interviews in The Writer’s Library. I know when I wrote my first (and probably last) novel, George & Lizzie, I knew exactly what kind of novel it would be, because I was writing it for myself and I knew what kind of books I loved.

TIM: Can you tell me about your personal libraries? Are you collectors, hoarders, or something else?

NANCY: I am not a collector, but there are books that I keep just because I loved them at one time. I have many novels that I read as a young teen (mostly purchased at library book sales), which I will probably never re-read, but that I can’t bear not to have in my personal library. My favorite writer from those years is Mary Stolz. She wrote books for both teens and younger children, but I only love the teen ones. I have re-read some of her teen novels and they actually hold up quite well. Of course they’re long out of print, but if you can find In a Mirror or Second Nature, I’d highly recommend both of them. Other than those teen novels (other than Stolz I have books by Anne Emery, Rosamund du Jardin, and Lenora Mattingly Weber), I’ve kept a lot of my favorite novels and a few nonfiction titles.

JEFF: I am a collector and a hoarder–meaning I have some books I cherish and many, many more that I just can’t bear to part with because I might, just maybe, want to look at them someday. As a collector, I focus on specific authors I love, including Chekhov, Philip Roth, Denis Johnson, Ross Macdonald, Raymond Carver, Richard Yates, and John O’Hara (all dead white men), as well as modern signed first editions (a more diverse lot, including my favorite living writer, Alice Munro, who is a master of compression and manages to get the depth of a novel into each of her short stories), pulp paperbacks, old Random House plays, slipcased editions… the list goes on and on, as does my library, which has taken over my fairly large house like a monster from a ’50s sci-fi movie. 

TIM: I loved hearing authors talk about books as objects, such as Jonathan Lethem collecting books for their cover designers. Do you have books you treasure as objects per se?

NANCY: No, not really – for me it’s always what the books say, what that means to me, rather than as a valuable object.

Jeff Schwager

JEFF: I love books with slipcases, like Folio Society and Limited Edition Club books, as well as clean old books, which have such a wonderful smell. I love beautiful dust jackets–the best ever is the one for the first edition of John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra. I love deckle edged pages. I have some beautiful illustrated Limited Edition Club editions of Isaac Bashevis Singer books—The Magician of Lublin, Satan in Goray, and some short stories–that evoke the shtetls of my ancestors, that I love. Of modern books, I love the design of Dave Eggers‘ McSweeney’s Books–check out Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis and Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon, to name two, which are such beautiful literary artifacts. 

TIM: How did you pick the authors you wanted to interview? Did you fight over who would get to do them?

NANCY: We started out by each making a list of the authors we wanted to interview and discovered, to our relief, that there was some overlap (T.C. Boyle, Charles Johnson, Michael Chabon, Louise Erdrich, Donna Tartt). Then we each had authors who we were passionate about but that the other person wasn’t as enthusiastic about. I won’t say it actually came to fisticuffs, but I believe that voices were raised in the ensuing discussions. And we ended with, I think, a wonderfully diverse collection of writers, so, as Ma says in Little House in the Big Woods, “all’s well that ends well.”

TIM: My favorite interview was with Laila Lalami, an author I have not read but will now. You probably can’t say which was your favorite, but how about one you loved?

NANCY: For me, each interview is special in its own particularly lovely way. I think that’s because we didn’t have a list of questions that we asked each writer—we began each interview by me asking a general sort of question about reading as children, or growing up in a reading family, but after that, we let the interview basically go where the writer took it. I loved the interview with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman because we talked so much about children’s books. I loved the interview with Luis Urrea because of the way his childhood reading was determined by the circumstances of his parents’ marriage. I loved the interview with Madeline Miller because she and I felt the same way about John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick. I loved the interview with Jenny Egan because of her story about reading Rebecca. I loved the interview with Amor Towles because he also read a series of mysteries in publication order. I loved the interview with Jane Hirschfield because I love poetry, which she talked about with such precision. I loved the interview with Laila Lalami because I learned so much about the experience of colonialism. I loved the interview with Russell Banks because of the story of his 4th grade teacher and Brazil. And so on.

JEFF: I loved them all of course, but one that stands out was T.C. Boyle, who lives in Montecito, down the street from Oprah Winfrey, in the first house Frank Lloyd Wright built in California. I was really eager to see his home, which was gorgeous, and to talk again to Tom (as he is casually known), whom I had first interviewed when I was a young journalistic pup thirty years ago. He is as funny as his funniest short stories, and also as thoughtful as his most serious novels, including my favorites, World’s End and Drop City.

TIM: In her lovely foreword, Susan Orlean recounts how the dementia and death of her mother was, in a way, the death of a library. More literally, dismantling my parents’ library, which encoded so much of their lives, was a second loss. What will happen to your library—however defined—when you die? 

NANCY: I hope my daughters will look inside all the books and find the ones that are autographed and keep or sell those (especially a book of poetry by Stephen Spender and a beat-up copy of Langston HughesMontage of a Dream Deferred both of which are signed to me personally). Other than that, I’m trying not to care too much about them.

JEFF: I’m leaving mine to Nancy—she walks 5-8 miles a day while I obsess over MSNBC 24/7, so I’m sure she will outlive me!

TIM: I could imagine a series of these books. Would you consider doing another? Anyone you wish you could interview?

NANCY: I’d love to do another collection, so we could talk to more poets, more writers at the beginning of their careers, more science fiction/fantasy writers, more nonfiction writers. But one of the things that makes The Writer’s Library special, I think, is that we’re with the authors in person, mostly in their homes. I don’t want to do a series of Zoom interviews – I don’t think it would be the same.

JEFF: There are so many writers I’d love to interview! If I could interview one living literary writer it would be Alice Munro, but we were told last time she was retired and not doing any more interviews. Otherwise, more poets definitely, and writers in genres we didn’t get to this time, like mystery and sci-fi/fantasy writers and playwrights. Also, I love literate songwriters—especially Bruce Springsteen, whose autobiography was wonderful and who is so well read, and whose songs show the influence of his reading. Call us, Bruce! And the Obamas, whose memoirs are as thoughtful as they are. I can’t wait for his new book. If you’re reading this Barack and Michelle, let us know–we will go anywhere, anytime, anyplace to talk to you!

Labels: author interview, authors, interview

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Interview with a Medical Library

John S Marietta Memorial Medical Library

LibraryThing is interviewing people in the book world who are affected by current events. This month, we caught up with Tim Kenny of John S. Marietta Memorial Medical Library, to ask about how their medical library is handling recent events. This library manages their collection through our catalog for small libraries, TinyCat.

1) What is the purpose of your library? Where is it located and what population does it serve?

We are a county hospital/health network library. We are located in Fort Worth, TX. Our
population served includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and all other clinical, support, and
administrative staff. We also provided patient level and consumer health support, but our
primary focus is health care professional support.

2) How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected library use and services? What are some solutions
you have found to deal with those changes?

Yes, COVID-19 has changed our service model. The library staff has been working from home
since late March. The library space itself is badge access so our community can still access our
computer bank and perform after hours check out. We try to get into the space every month
to clear the book drop and ensure all is well overall with the space. In our library we do a lot
of clinical and patient care focused searches. Fortunately, we can do 90% of our work
remotely as well as access all of our electronic resources. We have a lot of e-books in TinyCat
and our limited print collection is available for checkout to those with badges via a
rudimentary honor system while we are out.

3) If you could pick three items to represent your collection, what would they be and why?

Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine , Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS),
William’s Obstetrics

4) How is your personal library organized?

I don’t keep many books long term but for the one’s that make the cut, I probably go by
subject/genre/author. My physical media films are genre/title. Finally, my comics are sorted
by title, then year, then issue number. I’ve reorganized my comics many times and tinkered
with the organization but this method fits my style best.

5. What are you reading lately?
Letters of Note by Shaun Usher / A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn / Full
Throttle by Joe Hill.

Thanks, Tim! Want to learn more about how people in the book world have been weathering the changes this year? Check out the rest of the interview series.

Labels: interview

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

Interview with Harriet’s Bookshop

Harriet's Bookshop

LibraryThing is interviewing people in the book industry who are affected by current events. This month, we caught up with Jeannine Cook of Harriet’s Bookshop, which celebrates women authors, artists, and activists.

1) What is Harriet’s Bookshop and how did you get the idea for a bookshop like it?

Our mission is to celebrate women authors, women artists, and women activists. We’re named after Harriet Tubman, a profoundly influential woman abolitionist, activist, and writer. We are located in Fishtown, Philadelphia, and online.

2) What do you think is the purpose of a specific bookstore over a more general one?

Toni Morrison said that if you don’t see the book you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you have to write it yourself. I had never seen a bookstore full of Black women, Black authors, Black women activists, Black mothers. A bookstore that celebrated these women’s work and histories and passions. So, I made one. People told me not to go this niche—that I would limit my potential audience—but I’m happy to say that hasn’t turned out to be true.

3) How has COVID-19 changed business for Harriet’s Bookshop?

We actually opened our doors on Feb 01, 2020, then closed due to the virus in mid-March: so we were only formally open six weeks. It’s been a lot of continual adjusting. We moved our collection online for orders, and also have pivoted to figuring how to put the furniture of our store outside on the sidewalk for physical sales a few days a week. Also we increased communication with customers online. A lot of pivoting.

4) If you could summarize your bookshop in a few books, what would they be?

First, I would say Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson. It’s one of the best biographies of her. Larson’s in-depth research is impeccable.

Next, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. She asks what freedom is, what it really means. Through deep questions and an intense narrative, Morrison asks what freedom is in the context of the choice of slavery or death.

And a more recent book: Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half. This book is about the questions we have when creating ourselves, our identities: racial identity, gender identity, political identity, all identities. I think if people come into the bookshop and end up asking more questions than finding answers, that is a good thing.

5) How is your personal library organized?

It’s minimalist and rotating. I’m very much not a book hoarder, which people have questions about because I have a bookshop, but that’s what I like: having just what I’m reading out to view. What you see are the books I’ve rotated to read soon, not the whole collection.

6) What are you personally reading lately?

The book that is really staying with me these days is Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys. In the same way that we now look back at slavery—particularly chattel slavery in this country—and ask how was that allowed to continue, how did people not just stop it, Whitehead’s book asks that of us and our issues right now. When our grandchildren look back at now, they will ask how putting children in jail is still allowed, how it is still happening and no one is stopping it. The Nickel Boys asks that question with this book. It’s easy for people to buy a book, read it, and then move on, but I don’t understand how anyone does that with this one. How do you just move on to the next book after The Nickel Boys?

Labels: bookstores, interview

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Interview with Sistah Scifi

Sistah Scifi

LibraryThing is interviewing people in the book industry who are affected by current events. This month, we caught up with Isis Asare of Sistah Scifi, founded to uplift sci-fi and literature written by Black women. 

1. What is the mission of Sistah Scifi and how did it come about?

Sistah Scifi is a cauldron of all things afrofuturism; afro-mysticism; Black sci-fi; and voodoo casting spells to uplift literature written by Black women

2. How would you define afrofuturism as a genre and why do you love it? What are some good books to start with for people unfamiliar with afrofuturism?

I love this definition from Wikipedia:

Afrofuturism is a cultural aestheticphilosophy of science and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African diaspora culture with technology. It was coined by Mark Dery in 1993[1] and explored in the late 1990s through conversations led by Alondra Nelson.[2] Afrofuturism addresses themes and concerns of the African diaspora through technoculture and science fiction, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences.

Sistah Scifi

I enjoy Afrofuturism because I love thinking about technology and the future. Afrofuturism layers core tenants of African diasporic culture – ancient African religions, equality, freedom, family – in a way where I feel seen and valued as a reader.
Ytasha Womack literally wrote the book on Afrofuturism: “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture.” That would provide great context.
Isis Asare of Sistah Scifi
I would recommend Octavia E. Butler’s work as a place to start. Folks unfamiliar with her work can join the Octavia E Butler Read-A-Long. You can find details here.

3. What are some things that the wider sci-fi community could do to better support Black sci-fi literature and authors?

There are two things all readers can do:

1. Read and recommend science fiction books by Black authors – not simply because they are Black or because it is trending now but because these are compelling and highly imaginative stories.

2. Look for independent authors in the space. Sistah Scifi will launch two titles by independent authors Nicole Givens Kurtz and Venus Kalie this week.

Isis Asare of Sistah Scifi

4. Tell us about your home library—what’s in it? How is it organized?

My home library is organized in four sections – business strategy books like The Innovators Dilemma; race, gender and political studies such as Women in Tech; self awareness such as Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace; African American Literature such as The Bluest Eye; and Afrofuturism such as An Unkindness of Ghosts.

5. What are you reading now?

I am reading Pet by Awaeke Emezi for the SOULar Power Book club.

Thanks, Isis and Sistah Scifi!

Are you affiliated with an organization that you think we might want to feature in our interview series? Reach out to info@librarything.com.

Labels: bookstores, interview

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Interview with Callan Bignoli About #ProtectLibraryWorkers

Callan Bignoli, Library Director at Olin College of Engineering

Callan Bignoli of #ProtectLibraryWorkers

The book world is rapidly changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. LibraryThing has been talking to people affected by these changes. For all our conversations, go here.

We interviewed Callan Bignoli (she/her/hers), Director of the Library at Olin College of Engineering, who has been organizing and advocating for the health of library workers. First through the #closethelibraries campaign to encourage hold-out library systems to close their physical doors for public and staff safety earlier this year, and now for #ProtectLibraryWorkers, advocating for a more considered approach to re-opening physical library locations, including curbside.

According to Callan, she “worked hardest on local efforts where she thought she’d be able to make the most change, and tried to supply resources to help people with organizing and power mapping to support them throughout the country.”

Callan be found on Twitter (@eminencefont) and her website.

1. What is #protectlibraryworkers and how did it come about?

#ProtectLibraryWorkers evolved from the #closethelibraries movement on Twitter when it became clear that just because a library had closed to the public did not mean that communities or library staff members were being kept safe. Curbside and home delivery, interlibrary loan, document scanning, and more were still happening at libraries, often with library assistants, pages, and student workers being put at risk while their “higher up” colleagues worked from home. In the case of libraries in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, and likely elsewhere, workers were forcibly deployed to other positions that exposed them to considerably more risk, such as emergency childcare centers and temporary shelters, with little choice in the matter other than whether or not to still get paid. Then, the wave of layoffs and furloughs began to sweep the country. #ProtectLibraryWorkers was an attempt to speak out against all of these crises and advocate for libraries-as-people, not just libraries-as-institution as we have seen our professional organizations repeatedly choose to do.
2. How can people support library workers at their local or national level?
1) Sign this petition written by members of current and past Library Freedom Institute cohorts to push for safe and fair reopening conditions. We want as many cosigners as we can get before we begin to distribute it to decision makers in individual states.
2) Figure out what is going on locally and question it. Is your local library providing curbside pickup before your state’s stay-at-home order is lifted? Ask why that’s happening and push for it to stop.
3) Continue paying attention to the local conversation and find like-minded fellow citizens to band together and prepare to push back on library budget cuts and staffing reduction.
4) Donate to EveryLibrary’s Help a Library Worker Out (HALO) fund.
3. If you could wave a magic wand and create guidelines for libraries as we go through reorienting to a new normal, what would some of those guidelines be?
Stay home for as long as possible. Don’t just close down and silo yourself off to the other departments in your school, city, or town; despite whatever competition for resources or beefs you had before, don’t feel as if you have to go this all alone. Everything is different now. Deeply and carefully consider which of your patrons are benefiting from curbside delivery, think about the amount of time and effort you’re putting into it, and think about what other outreach you might be doing to help those that aren’t benefiting. As layoffs and furloughs worsen, partner up to create mutual aid networks for library workers in your area. If you’re a director, do everything in your power to keep your staff. Communicate clearly and honestly with your people. Trust them to keep finding things to do while they’re teleworking, and ask yourself, “Does it really matter when we’re trying to save lives?” Ask that question often.
We ask all our interviewees the same final two questions:
4. How is your personal library organized?
At any given time, about 1/3 of my small collection of books are library checkouts (often from Olin’s library), so I have one shelf of those, one shelf of fiction, and one shelf of nonfiction. I tend to keep the unusual/unofficial things the longest, like self-published poetry books given to me by former patrons, a personal journal of the mid-century advertising artist Marilyn Conover that I found in a used bookstore in Gloucester, the Shutterfly book my old boss gave me of the library we renovated together, that kind of stuff.
5. What have you read lately? What do you recommend?
I’m currently in the last section of Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy which probably makes me seem like I’m behind the curve, but honestly when I was in public library administration, I didn’t read much of anything–so I’m still catching up now! I’d say the biggest takeaways for me personally have been 1) the understanding that movements can and should take many forms and that we shouldn’t necessarily lump things under the same big umbrellas, 2) the acknowledgment that lasting change is long, slow, and hard work, which isn’t something that naturally “comes” to me, and 3) the importance and strength of consensus decision making, and, relatedly, putting explicit trust in others. I’d recommend it to anyone doing work in social justice or advocacy movements, and really any kind of leaders or managers as well.

 

Labels: interview, Uncategorized

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Interview with Tom Holbrook of RiverRun Bookstore

Independent bookstores are struggling right now. We are eager to talk to booksellers about what’s going on, how they are dealing with this ongoing crisis, and ways we can help. We talked with Tom Holbrook of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH.

How has River Run been managing the Coronavirus?

Like all retail in New Hampshire, our sales floor is closed to the public, but we can do curbside pickup. As a result, we are fielding phone calls and emails all day long. In addition to curbside pickup we are delivering books to Portsmouth and Kittery, and mailing books anywhere in the US. It’s a lot of work—a lot!—but at least we have work to do and it is keeping the store in people’s minds.

How can people help you out, or help out their local indie?

Our customers have been amazing, and our online friends have been great as well. Our online ordering site usually gets a few orders a week. Since this started we’ve been getting 10–12 a day. That’s really the best way for people to help us out – buy a book from our website. It’s good for us, and good for them! It’s my hope that we are winning people away from Amazon during this time, and will be able to keep them as loyal customers. We also launched a great t-shirt online to promote reading and social distancing, and hit our goal of 100 shirts in 4 days. Our offer runs through April 30, so it’s not too late to get one!

Tell us about your home library—what’s in it? How is it organized?

At home, I don’t have as many books as people imagine, because I just borrow them from the store (shh!), but I keep them in a yellow room with bookshelves along the wall. One case is full of my favorite books that I want to keep and share, the other 3 cases are full of books I haven’t got to quite yet!

What are you reading now?

Currently I am reading Night Boat to Tangier (RiverRun | LibraryThing) by Kevin Barry, which has definite Joyce overtones in its dialogue and flow. Rereading Once & Future (RiverRun | LibraryThing) by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta. Best YA I read last year, and the sequel just dropped so I need a refresher. My 11yo daughter and I are working our way through the Wells and Wong mystery series (RiverRun | LibraryThing), and we both love it.

Thanks to everyone who supports indie bookstores!

See all bookstore interviews hereDo you run an independent bookstore and would like to be featured in our blog? Please reach out.

Labels: bookstores, interview

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Interview with Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore

Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore

Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore

LibraryThing interviewed Josh Christie, co-owner, with Emily Russo, of Print: A Bookstore, in Portland, Maine about his bookstore and what book lovers can do for bookstores during this crisis.

Q: How has Print handled the Coronavirus?

On March 16th, we closed our doors to the public. We’re anticipating reopening on March 30th, though this could certainly change—our course of action will be determined by advice from state and national authorities.

While our doors are closed, we’ve shifted to online (printbookstore.com) and phone orders. We’re offering free nationwide shipping or local delivery for orders over $20, and curbside pickup for orders of any size. We’re also letting people know about their options for ebooks and audio books from Print, via Papertrell and Libro.fm.

We’re also using the temporary closure to tackle administrative and back-end tasks in the store, like updating our website and point-of-sale system, as well as deep cleaning and organization. There’s no lack of things to do, and we hope to keep our entire staff on for their regularly scheduled hours while we weather this crisis.

Q: How bad is this for indie bookstores like yours?

It’s hard to overstate just how hard this will hit independent bookstores. Most stores—even profitable ones—operate with precious little cash on hand, so any interruption in income makes available funds dry up quickly. With margins on books generally running about 5–10 percent less than other goods (and little opportunity to adjust prices, as they’re printed on the product), an already thin-margin business is about to get much tougher. And, since most don’t warehouse books of their own, any disruption to local or international supply chains could make getting books to customers difficult.

There’s also book signings and author events, which are impossible in a time of social distancing. Events aren’t a huge part of the bottom line for every store, but for many (including ours), they’re significant. We’ve already cancelled everything through the start of April, and if the need to socially distance extends to the summer these will only grow.

Which is to say, I don’t think it will be any easy time for any business of any size, but some of the structural and economic realities of bookselling make it particularly fraught.

We’ve already seen stories about stores laying off or furloughing staff, and we’re undoubtedly at the start of this rather than the end. For the majority of stores, I have to guess the best case scenario is a big impact on income and a reduction of payroll. For many, I fear this will result in closures.

Q: How can LibraryThing members help Print and other indies?

The most direct way to support bookstores like ours is to shop with us. The most significant impact would be made by buying gift certificates, which immediately injects cash into our businesses. However, any purchases are a huge help. It’s also still a great time to preorder books, which don’t provide income now but guarantees future business.

And, while it’s not a form of financial support, following our stores on social media and signing up for our newsletters will help us get the word out about how we’re navigating this crisis. Similarly, even if you aren’t in a position to buy from us, boosting and promoting us to others will get more people through our (virtual) doors.

We always end with two questions.

Q: Tell us about your home library. What’s in it, and how is it organized?

I live alone in a pretty small one-bedroom apartment, but there are multiple bookcases and bookshelves in each room (including a few I added to the walls myself when I ran out of space). I’ve been a buyer for bookstores for almost a decade, so I’ve got a pretty even split of finished books and bound manuscripts/galleys. My tastes tend toward narrative nonfiction, largely contemporary, and most of what I have reflects that. I’ve also written a few books, including one on the history of beer in Maine, so I’ve got a lot of older books about beer, brewing, and Prohibition.

Organizationally, it’s a bit of a mess. 7 or 8 years ago I scanned every book I owned into my library on LibraryThing, but at this point I’ll admit I don’t have a great sense of what I have or where it is. I could lie and say it’s meant to inspire browsing and seeing what strikes my fancy, but it’s really just laziness.

Q: What are you reading now?

As always, I have a few half-finished books scattered around me. There’s You Never Forget Your First (>Print | LibraryThing), the first significant biography of George Washington from a woman, by Alexis Coe. It reminds me quite a bit of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra (Print | LibraryThing) and Emily Wilson’s Odyssey (Print | LibraryThing) in how it recontextualizes history we’ve heard a million times. And then there’s Michele Harper’s The Beauty in Breaking (Print | LibraryThing), a memoir from a female African American emergency room physician being published by Riverhead Books this summer. I’m also a person who actually reads cookbooks from front to back (I love food writing, and recipes with a voice), and Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy (Print | LibraryThing)  is on my nightstand. Finally, Homie by Danez Smith (Print | LibraryThing). Smith has been a favorite of mine since his 2015 collection Black Movie (Print | LibraryThing), and I’ve been slowly devouring his new collection over the last few weeks.

 

Labels: bookstores, interview