What Do Booksellers Read? – August 2015

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Margret Aldrich

Staff Writer

Margret Aldrich is a writer and recovering book editor who has worked with authors from American Indian activist Winona LaDuke to punk-rock guitar legend Cheetah Chrome. (They were equally intense and equally fantastic.) She is also a former editor, blogger, and librarian at Utne Reader, a magazine celebrating the best of the alternative press. Based in Minneapolis, Margret is a devoted Little Free Library owner who wonders what to do when a Sarah Palin biography shows up in one's LFL. Her book about Little Free Libraries—and how they spark community, literacy, and creativity around the world—came out from Coffee House Press in April. Twitter: mmaldrich

One of my favorite ways to get to know someone is to ask them what they’re reading. Do you do that, too?

By finding out what books are on his or her nightstand, it’s easy to speculate if you’ve just found your literary soulmate or if you should do the book-ish equivalent of swiping left.

People who work at bookstores often have the best answers. They read the newest of the new, the most classic of the classic, obscure titles, popular titles, and everything in between.

Here, I ask booksellers from three stellar bookshops around the country what they’re reading this month. You just might develop a crush on their TBR piles. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

underSteven Salardino | Skylight Books | Los Angeles

What are you reading right now? Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt, Bright-Eyed at Midnight by Leslie Stein, and I am working my way through the French crime novels of Delacorta (Daniel Odier) beginning with the book Diva.

What is on your to-be-read list? The Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante, Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford.

How do you choose your next book? It is a special combination of fellow bookseller recommendations and the used books that have made their way to my shelves but are unread. I read the first page and if it sticks I keep going. Often timing is everything — the first page of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics didn’t stick for years, but then it did and it was amazing.

What is your favorite book to recommend? I love how perfect a short story can be — every line and mood distilled down, no chaff. The short stories of Richard Yates, Stacey Richter, Mary Gaitskill, Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, Jane Gardam, Thom Jones . . . nothing like turning someone on to these fine writers. It is also a thrill to recommend writers from Los Angeles’ rich literary history like John Fante, Nathanael West, Wanda Coleman, Dennis Cooper, and Aimee Bender, just to name a few.

afterMarquis D. Gibson | Politics & Prose Bookstore | Washington D.C.

What I’m reading now: Currently, I’m reading Edwidge Danticat’s book, After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti. It documents her journey through a celebrated cultural mainstay in her home country of Haiti, a place that I’ve been to twice.

What’s on my to-be-read list: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman — the polarizing responses have piqued my interest in the novel even more. Also, I want finally want to sink my teeth into Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

How I choose my next book: Sometimes, I choose books based on what the social climate of the country is. I’ll revisit works by James Baldwin, Toni Morrison. I’m an advocate and practitioner of the arts, so I’m naturally drawn toward plays, dramatic literature — recently read Anna Deavere Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist. Also, there are some books I’ve yet to read in my library, so sometimes those will be pushed to the forefront.

Favorite book to recommend: It’s tough, but as of late, I’ll recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me to anyone. Another favorite is recommending any August Wilson play; he’s one of my favorite playwrights.

bloodVeronica K. Brooks-Sigler | Octavia Books | New Orleans

What I’m reading now: For at least a month, I was reading forty pages of this book and forty pages of that book a night because I wanted to absorb them all. I wanted to be able to say a little something about the various books in the store. However, I’ve had to stop doing that because I wasn’t finishing anything. Last night I finished Lacey Eye (a solid family drama/thriller) and the night before The Small Backs of Children. I have started the YA book Blood and Salt (out in September).

What’s on my to-be-read list: I do not even know where to begin to list everything on my TBR list: Dumplin’The Incarnations, Queen of the Night, The Golden Specific,Big Machine, Cocaine BluesMy side of the room is pretty much a TBR pile. I need to sit down and absorb Men We Reaped.

How I choose my next book: I use Edelweiss to see what other booksellers are reading. Usually when Liberty Hardy is excited about something, I know I’ll like it. Also, I look at the store’s Twitter feed (that’s how I found out about The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, which is such a sweet, lovely book), PW, and Kirkus. A number of my friends are writers, so I try to read as many of their books as I can. I try to keep up with the books for our events. Also, there is a particular editor from Harper, and I read almost everything he is editing/gives me.

Favorite book to recommend: I don’t know if I have a favorite book to recommend. I have been hand-selling a great deal of  In the Woods. Usually, if someone asks me for recommendations at the store, I ask them to tell me the last thing they read and liked, and then, I can narrow it down.

So tell us, what are you reading right now? And should we be best friends?