“You Can’t Eat Frustration”: A Word with . . . Josh Cook

For this week’s A Word With You, we interviewed Josh Cook, marketing director and co-owner of Porter Square Books, which was named the 2020 Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Josh has been selling books with Porter Square Books since it opened in 2004, and is a frontline bookseller, magazine buyer, and the website and social media manager. He is also the author of An Exaggerated Murder (Melville House, 2015). Follow him @InOrderofImport.

So…how are you? 

Pretty good. Or, weird, but doing a lot better than a lot of other people and trying to feel grateful about that. I’m still working, still getting paid. I live in a place where I can get take out, beer from local breweries, groceries. I have a backyard and a nice porch. There are absences in my life, and as important as going out, being in the same physical room as my friends, being able to hand books to customers, being able to visit family is, none of that is existential.

Can you talk about winning Publishers Weekly‘s Bookstore of the Year? What was that like—and what did you think 2020 would look like after winning that award? 

I didn’t really have a lot of expectations. When we were nominated, I was most looking forward to the speech that David would give at [BookExpo] if we won and then, when we actually won, we found out on a 10AM Zoom meeting. That happened just a few minutes before the announcement went public and after we’d been closed for a little while and after we had changed our business model, like, three times in a week. There wasn’t a lot of emotional space if you know what I mean. It is, of course, validating to see something you’ve built recognized on a national scale, but I think its real importance and its real impact on us and our community was the opportunity it gave everyone to celebrate. I think a lot of people in our community felt they were a part of that award and they’re right.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring? 

I’ve been running to stand still so much recently I almost feel a little disconnected from the industry despite working so much. I’m excited for Coffee House’s new paid writing program. I’m excited for a lot of the books coming out this fall. I’m excited that so many bookstore GoFundMe are actually getting funded, even ones with six-figure asks. I’m excited that individual booksellers are finding ways to sell books even if their stores are closed. I’m excited that we seem to be starting a bigger discussion of systems of power in publishing and how we can build a more just industry. I’m excited that it looks like some number of Amazon shoppers have migrated to indie bookstores.

There is always potential that tags along with volatile situations. There are opportunities to be creative and inventive, to discover new ways of doing things that could leave the world a better place than it was before the crisis. And it seems like, unlike in 2008, communities really understand the value of independent bookstores and are spending the money to keep them afloat. It’s scary that it still might not be enough. It’s frustrating that so much of the work being done and money being spent is by people who don’t have the time and don’t have the money. It’s frustrating that a lot of this would be easier if some number of powerful and wealthy people did just a tiny fraction more than the nothing they seem to be doing.

But you can’t eat frustration and though you can’t eat excitement either, it’s at least something to get up for in the morning. Bookselling in 2021 might look completely different from how it looked in 2020 and I think there are good reasons to be excited about that.

What does business look like right now? How are online sales and events working?

A lot of other people have been saying this, but I’ll say it again because I think it’s important to how we think about what our economy could look like after the crisis and to adjusting our assumptions about online commerce: Every sale takes three times as much work. Sometimes more. That said, our online sales have been strong. We already had relatively strong online sales, so even though we didn’t build our online commerce for pandemic mitigation, a lot of our in store customers have transitioned to shopping online. Furthermore, we’d also built a strong social media presence, and so there are a lot of people around the country who just wanted to support indie bookstores and chose us because they like what we do on Twitter. I also think both of those things helped us capture some Amazon customers. So, we’re doing okay with online sales. 

But the simple fact is, there is no digital technology yet that is as good at selling books as a physical bookstore. I mean, just think about how many different books you can look at in a minute of wandering around bookstore verses scrolling through a website, how much faster it is to read their summaries, how much easier it is to flip to a random page to test out the prose. Even before we consider gifts and greeting cards and socks and literary magazines and everything else that is difficult for a bookstore to sell online, it is, technologically speaking, a lot harder to sell books online than in a store. So, PSB is doing okay, maybe even great, in the context of this moment, but we’re selling far fewer books than we would be if the store were open.

In terms of events, I think we’re still figuring it out. We haven’t done a ton. We’ve had some with a ton of views and a healthy number of sales and donations and some with not so much. We’ve sold out one ticketed event, but it’s the only one we’ve had and that was Christopher Moore. Given the type of work virtual events take and the type of communal space they occupy, at the moment we’re planning on doing fewer virtual events than we were doing in store events, but that’s the only thing we’ve really decided. That is the other side of “innovation.” Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what works. One thing hasn’t changed though, authors that did outreach to their fans had more successful events than authors who didn’t.   

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

We were all hoping for an end date, right? Okay, the crisis is over today so tomorrow we can have a huge party. That’s clearly not going to happen. I think a lot of people, regardless of whatever recommendations are made by authorities, are going to maintain social distancing of some kind at least until there is a vaccine. So there is a good chance we’ll need to continue things like curbside pick-up and local delivery after the store is fully open in order to serve our community. For obvious reasons, I hope people will keep buying the Josh Sends You Three Paperbacks bundle, as that has been a lot of fun. It’s basically a bookseller’s dream. There were also a few things we were working on that were put on hold, that we hopefully have the space to pick back up. I think we’d like to figure out ways to do hybrid events. Not only do events with a virtual component have no attendance limit, they’re also more accessible in general, so I’d really like to use what we’ve learned in the crisis to make our events more accessible when they can be in the store again.

The thing I hope for the most is that Amazon customers who came to us because Amazon deprioritized book orders stay with us. At least some of them. If indie bookstores can get to the other side of this AND those customers stay in the indie bookstore channel, we could end up with a much stronger industry than we’ve had in decades. And if we combine that with some of the other things we developed, like The Bookstore at the End of the World, like the various bundles stores are selling, we could find ourselves in something of a golden age of empowered, independent booksellers.

We have to ask: do you have another book-themed tattoo planned?

Not specifically! I’ve got a bookselling one in the back of my head and I’ve had something to commemorate my book also in the back of my head for a while. Just kinda waiting for an excuse if you know what I mean. I don’t have anything like my Ducks, Newburyport tattoo in the queue, but who knows what book I’ll try to sell 100 copies of this year.

What are you working on and what are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.?)

I’m still plugging away at the same [work-in-progress] I’ve been on for a few years now, along with the range of side projects I always keep around. I’m not in a place where I can say too much about the main project, but I will say I am looking forward to What is Grass by Mark Doty. I’ve always liked having different projects that require different brain spaces that I can turn to when I don’t have whatever I need for the main thing, but it’s been a real boon during the crisis. Having writing that doesn’t need to be done on the computer, that doesn’t have any real stakes, that I can just pick up when I have a relevant idea and put away when I don’t makes it easier to just keep putting words out there and that seems like a luxury these days. 

I’ve been able to keep up my reading pretty well, too, especially now that the bookstore has been settled into its processes for a couple of weeks and we can have days off. I’m working my way through The Dreamed Part by Rodrigo Fresan and Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash (both works of genius, but very different types of genius). I just started Telephone by Percival Everett, High As the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann, and Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride (the prose is like she put the sentences of Henry James in a mirror and then smashed it), and I’m working my way through a handful of the Best Translated Poetry finalists, including The Next Loves by Stéphane Bouquet. I’m also excited to start Feminist City by Leslie Kern and Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau. Other new books that I hope sell a shmillion copies are the new Wanda Coleman selected works, Wicked Enchantment. She should be a household name (at least in poetry households) and I really hope Wicked Enchantment does that for her. And Cars on Fire by Monica Ramon Rios is wild. Great book for fans of Lina Wolff and Renee Gladman and the story “Invocation” has what might be the best use of two column storytelling I’ve ever seen.  

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

Comments Off on “You Can’t Eat Frustration”: A Word with . . . Josh Cook

Filed under Bookstores, Featured, Interviews

“I’ve Spent Decades Inhabiting the Tension Between Hope and Despair”: A Word with . . . Claudia Zoe Bedrick

In this week’s A Word with You, we spoke with Claudia Zoe Bedrick, publisher, editor, and art director of Enchanted Lion Books, an independent children’s publisher based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Recent accolades for the press include Ezra Jack Keats Awards, Batchelder Awards, and inclusion on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book List. Keep up with them @EnchantedLion.

So . . . how are you?

It’s kind of you to ask and since I think you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’m all right, keeping on, as people do. A pessimistic idealist, I’ve spent decades inhabiting the tension between hope, with its refusals and utopian creations, and despair in the face of what is. So, the oscillation between darkness and light that is the tempo of these days is a familiar one. Otherwise, my 82 year-old-mom, who lives alone in Manhattan and hasn’t left her small apartment since late February, continues to be in good humor and without complaint, which is both heartening and infectious.

Has the crisis affected how you buy and think about books?

Yes, the crisis has affected everything, including how and what I read, how I buy books as an individual as well as rights to books as a publisher, which is something we’re not doing right now.

Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, illus. Ashleigh Corrin was an Ezra Jack Keats Honor Book and an Ezra Jack Keats Award Winner for illustrations.

Do you think the switch from physical books to eBooks and PDFs will change how people buy and review new titles?

This shift is practical, of course, yet deeply concerning, and I truly hope we don’t see a long-lasting shift away from physical books, especially picture books for children. For the purpose of review, it’s helpful, efficient, and cost effective to submit PDFs, but eBooks and PDFs can’t stand in for physical books and all of what reading them involves, from the tactility and smell of the book, to holding it and turning pages, to experiencing and understanding the story across page turns and within the very specific dimensions of the book. Currently, all of the Association of Library Service to Children committees which receive and judge books for the highest awards in the land for children’s books are receiving PDFs only, but I firmly believe that for these awards to continue to have integrity and validity, decisions will need to be made based on receiving and reading the actual books.

The editing and art direction done on a picture book are ultimately about the physical book, with both visual and written narratives constructed across page turns, which are themselves a function of temporality and surprise. Picture books can only be understood through their page turns (temporal/dramatic shifts) and how pictures and words work specifically within the trim of the physical book, with size, relationship, and perspective gaining specific meaning and expression depending on whether the book is 6 × 8, 9 × 12, or 10 × 10. There is no metonymy here: the eBook cannot stand in for the picture book.

The eBook is an approximation for which certain types of books and picture books are more suited than others. The more experimental books and those most intentionally constructed for the unique space that is the picture book will not read as well in eBook form and much will be lost. This is just a fact, which is why we should do everything we can as a society to hold space for the unique world of the physical, printed picture book.

Interiors from Every Color of Light: A Book about the Sky by Hiroshi Osada, illus. Ryoji Arai, trans. David Boy, forthcoming this June.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

I love indie bookstores as physical spaces. I grew up in them and love the magic that happens in them, and our indie colleagues and friends have been doing awesome and wonderful things within their communities. It’s wonderful to see, and necessary, and makes me love these stores and their humans even more.

Otherwise, the most recent place from which I drew inspiration was Krista Tippett’s interview with the poet Ocean Vuong on “On Being,” where Vuong talks about how we say the future is in our hands, but for him it’s actually in our mouths, because we have to articulate the world we want to live in first; and how a better linguistic reality will mean for a better bodily future for us all; and how we need to remember always that we are participants in the future of language and have a role to play in casting new meanings, from which new worlds and possibilities arise; and he asks us to consider where the future might be if we alter our language and where if we don’t. We diminish, even refuse, future possibilities all the time through persistence in capitalist, exploitative, use-value speech, and that’s only one single lexicon of violence we live within. As I, too, believe in language and the imagination as our best tools for reshaping reality, I responded strongly to Vuong’s words.

What does business look like right now? How are online sales and events working?

Precarious, challenging, deeply engaging. Our events have been going well, thanks to our amazing authors, illustrators, translators, and ELB team. And our online sales have been solid thanks to the intentional, committed, and generous support of our readers and community. Enchanted Lion is a small, independent, working-class press with nothing beyond sales to keep us afloat, so if larger companies are worried, well, you can extrapolate. We did apply for the PPP and EIDL [Paycheck Protection Program and earned Income Leave Benefit], but nothing yet.

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

Yes, we are excited to be expanding the possibilities for promoting and sharing books and will certainly continue using Instagram Live, our subscription program, and virtual calls that bring authors and illustrators into classrooms, libraries, and bookstore communities.

What do you hope for the future of children’s publishing?

Physical books, beautiful books, innovative, risky, amazing books, and a society where all children, families, schools and libraries are valued enough to have the money to buy them.

What are you reading or working on? What would you pair a recent book rec with (a movie, a TV show, etc.?)

I am working on our summer, fall, winter, and spring 2021 books in different ways, and handling a lot of business. Otherwise, I’ve just started to read Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture by Ellen F. Davis, which has a foreword by Wendell Berry, whose poems I’m always reading, along with Mary Oliver’s. I put three books in my Bookshop.org basket the other day, two by Ocean Vuong and Maria Tatar’s most recent one.

Pairing: I just started watching “Babylon Berlin” with my husband and nineteen-year-old son, and it’s compelling and remarkably well done. This morning, I told my son that it could be enriching to read Peter Gay’s work on Weimar alongside. That and a little bourbon sounds just perfect.

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

Comments Off on “I’ve Spent Decades Inhabiting the Tension Between Hope and Despair”: A Word with . . . Claudia Zoe Bedrick

Filed under Featured, Interviews

This Week’s News

Congratulations to Jericho Brown, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Tradition. Two other Consortium titles were also announced as Pulitzer finalists: Mary Ruefle’s Dunce for poetry and Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning for drama.

Eric Mueller, author of Family Resemblance, was interviewed by the Star Tribune on May 3.

Alain de Botton, founder of The School of Life, appeared on the Late Late Show with James Corden on May 5. Stay up to date with their ongoing series about living philosophically on CNN.

Book Riot‘s April 22 roundup of great picture books about the environment included four titles from Blue Dot Kids Press: Ivy BirdLeafy CrittersUnder My Treeand Who Will It Be

New York Times Magazine recommended The Cockettes by Fayette Hauser on April 30. The New York Times Book Review recommended the very different, but just as compelling new novel The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana

Juli Delgado Lopera, author of Fiebre Tropical (The Feminist Press at CUNY) wrote about the underappreciated beauty of Spanglish for Teen Vogue on May 1.

Monica Sok, author of The Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press) was interviewed in Literary Hub on April 30.

Obit by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press) and Toxicon and Arachne by Joyelle McSweeney (Nightboat Books) were recommended in Vanity Fair on April 30.

Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji and I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom (both Arsenal Pulp Press) won Publishing Triangle Awards.

Keiler Roberts, author of Rat Time (Koyama Press), was interviewed by Chimera Obscura on May 2.

Dart interviewed Josh Cochran, illustrator of Drawing on Walls (Matthew Burgess, Enchanted Lion Books) on May 1.

Jessica Cohen talked to the Forward about her translation of The Drive (Yair Assulin, New Vessel Books) on April 29.

An excerpt from Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero (trans. Frances Riddle, The Feminist Press at CUNY) was published in Words Without Borders on April 29.

Jody Savin, author of Stitched & Sewn (Prospect Park Books), was interviewed with her daughter in the May issue of Hadassah Magazine.

The Edgar Award for Best Short Story was awarded to Livia Llewellyn for “One of These Nights” from Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers (edit. Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Books) and the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award was given to Derrick Harriell’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” from Milwaukee Noir (edit. Tim Hennessy, Akashic Books). Kirsten Tranter’s “The Passenger” from Sydney Noir (edit. by John Dale, Akashic Books) was also a finalist for Best Short Story.

Comments Off on This Week’s News

Filed under Featured, News

This Week’s Reviews

Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod
Traci Brimhall | Copper Canyon Press | 9781556595806 | March 2020
“Stunning.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Every Color of Light
Hiroshi Osada, illus. Ryoji Arai, trans. David Boyd | Enchanted Lion Books | 9781592702916 | June 2020
“A story that sharpens the senses and quiets the soul.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Esther Kinsky, trans. Caroline Schmidt | Transit Books | 9781945492389 | July 2020
“A philosophical jewel seeking revelation in interstices, absences, ruptures, and the passages between existence and memory.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Mansour’s Eyes
Ryan Girod, trans. Chris Clarke | Transit Books | 9781945492365 | July 2020
“Capitalism and religious fundamentalism collide in Girod’s shimmering account of one man’s heresy and imminent execution.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

DMZ Colony
Don Mee Choi | Wave Books | 9781940696959 | April 2020
“Choi’s DMZ Colony is as much an entity as it is a place, a meta-discursive domain wherein its throng of unlikely inhabitants—endangered birds, political prisoners, orphans, refugees, all colonized subjects and outcasts of empire—are alternately declared and concealed.” —Chicago Review of Books

Include Me Out
María Sonia Cristoff, trans. Katherine Silver | Transit Books | 9781945492303 | February 2020
“Cristoff is the artist who grinds up the bones of the classics into powder that can be refigured into work that speaks more directly to our current age.” —The Nation

All Heathens
 Marianne Chan | Sarabande Books | 9781946448521 | March 2020
 “[An] ambitious debut collection.”—Ms. Magazine

If Venice Dies
Salvatore Settis, trans. André Naffis-Sahely | New Vessel Press | 9781939931375 | September 2016
“An alarming and necessary treatise on how much there is to lose when we don’t work to save one of our most enchanting cities on the planet. It’s out by New Vessel Press, an exciting independent New York publishing house that has been putting out some riveting works in translation.”—Interview Magazine

Douglas A. Martin | Nightboat Books | 9781643620220 | June 2020
“Employing muscular, wide-open prose and deep, dark empathy, Martin succeeds in doing this exactly here: compels us to contend with an everything. Wolf works by struggle and resistance. It demands attention, re-assessment, re-reading. It does not persuade or lecture or recount, but troubles and thickens, blurs the edges of these characters’ subjectivities, and renders visible your own prejudgments.”Big Other

Bradley of Him
Connor Wilumsen | Koyama Press | 9781927668733 | November 2019
“One way or another, Willumsen always finds a way to translate his extraordinary imagination into imagery that not only catches, but fully absorbs, the attention of the reader, and that’s no mean feat considering the sheer size, scale, and scope of his ambition. Like his protagonist, he’s forever pushing himself — he never stops running.” —SOLRAD

Inner Child
Henry Blackshaw | Cicada Books | 9781908714817 | August 2020
“Truths about love, life, and living in the moment are humorously recounted in this cautionary tale for all ages.”—Foreword Reviews

Little Pearl
Martin Widmark, illus. Emilia Dziubak | Floris Books | 9781782505990 | April 2020
“Because of this instant classic, imaginations will soar; whether it’s bedtime, daytime, or any time else, a bit of fantasy is in order.”—Foreword Reviews, starred review

Felix After the Rain
Dunja Jogan, edit. and trans. Olivia Hellewell | Tiny Owl Publishing | 9781910328583 | June 2020
“This is a lovely choice for school or home libraries, through which children will learn empathy and compassion as a kind stranger helps Felix to let go of his emotional baggage.”—Foreword Reviews

A Wave of Stars
Dolores Brown, illus. Sonja Wimmer | NubeOcho | 9788417673413 | July 2020
“The book’s beautiful full-color spreads and panels are interspersed with black-and-white line drawings as a white seal and turtle succumb to the legend of the moon rainbow, embarking on a journey that sends them out of the waves and onto dry land.”—Foreword Reviews, starred review

White Blood
Kiki Petrosino | Sarabande Books | 9781946448545 | May 2020
“The result of deep historical research, impressive formal dexterity, and savvy storytelling, this volume of poetry combines genealogy, history, and verse in a way that reflects many American experiences.”—Foreword Reviews

Collecting for a New World
John W. Hessler | D GILES | 9781911282396 | November 2019
“Well put together, a compact, tight design makes it a comfortable read, as well as an informative one. Beneficially, it is illustrated throughout with high quality illustrations.”—ARLIS/NA Review

The Helios Disaster
Linda Bostrom Knausgaard, trans. Rachel Willson-Broyles | World Editions | 9781642860689 | April 2020
“Blending psychological realism with a hallucinatory dose of the mythological, Linda Boström Knausgård’s The Helios Disaster eludes easy classification. It’s a slim novel that moves from trauma to revelation and back again; it’s also a disconcerting reworking of some memorable myths and legends. Running throughout the novel is a measured consideration of belief and humanity’s relationship to the divine—both metaphorically and literally.”—Words Without Borders

The Next Loves
Stéphane Bouquet, trans. Lindsay Turner | Nightboat Books | 9781643620053 | September 2019
If there’s a jewel in this collection, it is undoubtedly ‘Light of the Fig.’ A chronicle and homage to how difficult it is to be gay, it’s also a powerful elegy to all those young gay people who are no longer with us for one reason or another.”Gay and Lesbian Review

Comments Off on This Week’s Reviews

Filed under Featured, Reviews

“A Bookstore Is Not Meant to be Empty”: A Word with . . . Matt Keliher

In this week’s A Word With You, we spoke with bookseller Matt Keliher about how he’s handselling at a distance and the industry-wide changes he’s fighting for. Matt is the manager and head buyer of Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minnesota. Follow his twitter @MAKeliher to hear what indie book you should be reading next.

So…how are you? 

I’m doing all right. Putting one foot in front of the other, day after day. I’m getting real tired of going to an empty bookstore every day. Bookstores aren’t meant to be without people in them. I’m basically pulling at the pant legs of my postman to sustain a conversation.

What’s some good advice you’ve received recently?

I think the best advice I’ve heard recently is that we shouldn’t feel bad about charging for the cost of postage because most people know that it’s an added expense and that it cuts significantly into the margin of the book and therefore most people are fine with paying a couple extra bucks for postage if it helps the bookstore remain whole.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

Coffee House Press rolled out their Coffee House Writer’s Project that helps put money in the hands of booksellers and writers. It’s a great, innovative program I hope many more people become aware of and lend their support. I’m inspired every day by booksellers doing their best to continue providing their communities with the services that their communities require. It’s a different battle for everyone, and everyone is handling each day and each challenge differently.

I’ve been particularly impressed by Volumes in Chicago. They’re not only dealing with this crisis, but also handling a new landlord from NYC that seems to care very little about whether or not they remain a tenant. That landlord/renter dynamic can be challenging to overcome. And their GoFundMe has some sweet perks like the dance from The Breakfast Club performed by all-star authors.

What does business look like right now? 

It’s weird. It’s the weirdest, strangest thing, every single day. Our business is strong, online sales are strong, phone orders and special orders are coming in faster than we can move them out most days. But it’s just bizarre. A bookstore is not meant to be empty and quiet. A bookstore is not meant to have its door locked when the sun is highest. It’s all of my least favorite parts of bookselling—processing, sealing packages, bookkeeping, emails, etc.—and none of my favorite parts—talking to people about dope books.

But St. Paul has impressed the hell out of me. We’ve been offering a Surprise Me buy option on our website that has been hugely popular. Basically, you give the booksellers a clue about what you like, and we pick something awesome and mail it to you. It’s like if you were asking a bookseller to handsell you something in person . . . except now I always pick the right book. And it’s a big help to us also because it allows us to sell books that we have in stock which is more financially beneficial than ordering more books from our distributor every week. It’s my favorite part of every day.

We also were fortunate to have author Nora McInerny run a preorder campaign for a new book, Bad Moms. She made it her personal mission to drive me to be overwhelmed by sales, and absolutely succeeded in that task. It was more orders over a shorter period of time than our store has ever taken on. It’s been incredible to see, and entirely overwhelming, in the best way.

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides? 

Definitely. There’s a lot of little process and method kind of things that we updated to make our operations more efficient from what we’ve learned in the last month or so. We’ll keep the Surprise Me option available on our website forever, I think—that’s how much I love it. We’ll be continuing to improve our website to better handle a high volume of sales. I think bookstores all over are winning the long term support of many, many new customers in their communities as a result of the personal and effective service we have been providing lately.

Photo credit: Caroline Yang

What do you hope for the future of bookselling?

Greater solidarity among all workers across the industry, fighting, arm in arm, for the best for all of us. I’d like to see a national booksellers union. Higher wages across the board, from booksellers to publicists to warehouse workers. I’d like to see publishers take on a greater role in creating a more equitable playing field for all facets of the industry. I’d like to see broader and better messaging about how the book industry would benefit greatly from progressive government policies like Medicare For All. If you believe in independent bookstores, either as a reader, publisher, book reviewer, or wholesale distributor, without believing in healthcare as a human right, then you aren’t really supporting independent bookstores. Also, pay your interns or do not have internships. Oh, and another thing, there is no reason in the year 2020 that publishing must be centralized in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world. I’ll stop now.

What are you reading?

I am reading Denis Johnson’s short stories. I haven’t been able to lend my attention to a novel in some time. And I’m pairing it with John Prine, homemade pizza, more whiskey than I care to admit, and Money Heist on Netflix. (Psst: *whispers* if you like Money Heist, I have some translated fiction to tell you about.) 

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

Comments Off on “A Bookstore Is Not Meant to be Empty”: A Word with . . . Matt Keliher

Filed under Bookstores, Featured, Interviews