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Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller

Amanda Nelson

Staff Writer

Amanda Nelson is an Executive Director of Book Riot. She lives in Richmond, VA.

A few months ago, I got an offer from a local indie bookstore (over Twitter!) to come work a few days a week. I immediately accepted- after 8 months of being cooped up with my new twin boys, I was ready to get out of the house and talk to adults. Sometimes the pay doesn’t cover the cost of childcare for twins, but it’s not about the money- it’s about talking to grown ups who don’t want me to feed them applesauce. And now, after working (and loving) the job for almost three months, I have a few confessions to make.

I Love Reading Things Before You Do
One of the best parts of being a bookseller is that I get advanced review copies (ARCs) of books months before they come out. The new John Irving that comes out in May? I’ve had it for a month. Alex George’s much-buzzed A Good American? Oh yeah, I read that like six weeks ago. And while my enjoyment of this is partly a “nanananabooboo I got it before you,” it’s mostly about how I am now in the business of BUZZ CREATION as opposed to being on the receiving end.

I Have So Many Tawdry Quirks, I Could Open a Tawdry Quirk Shop*

I love alphabetizing the books. Shelving makes me oddly happy. If you buy a face-out book, my hands itch until you leave and I can put something in its place to fill the hole. If I see you with your smart phone out, I’ll follow you around until you put it away. I’ll pretend I’m busy, but I’m really spying on you to see if you’re using your phone to check Amazon. When the store is empty, I like to lounge on the floor and read the kids’ books (Skippyjon Jones for the win).

I Don’t Judge Your Taste in Books
When I get a customer who wants a recommendation, I usually ask what the last book was that they loved so I can see what they’re looking for in a book. Sometimes there’s a pause, an embarrassed shifty-eyed gaze to the floor. A mumble of, “well, I read a lot of teen books, like, Hunger Games and stuff…” Independent bookstores can have a reputation for being snobby places where the books are “curated” out the ass- where you won’t find a best seller anywhere, but where you can definitely find the collected works of David Foster Wallace. I’m sorry if you’ve had that experience at other indies, but honestly- I don’t care what you read. If you want to add to your collection of mermaid erotica, I’ll help you. You want to read the next Twilight? I’ll help you. Looking for a how-to on building your own yurt? You’re the coolest! Let’s do this. There’s no judgment.

Customers Can Make Me Feel Inadequate

When you ask me if I’ve read a certain book, more often than not, the answer is no. As a book blogger and general reading-obsessed-type-person, I already feel the pressure of every book I’ve ever not read bearing down on me. The other day I actually had a customer whip out a Best Books Of All Time list from some obscure newspaper and start grading me. I almost hyperventilated.

Unsupervised Children Near the Humor Section Make Me Nervous
We have a humor section with books like What To Do When You Have a Huge Penis, and Snark: The Sex Edition. I keep that stuff on the top shelves for a reason, but sometimes browsing customers move stuff around. When your six-year-old wanders over there, I internally freak out and rush over before she can discover what to do with an anatomical tripod.

Recommending Books Is A Two-Way Pleasure

I love pointing customers to books I know they’ll love…but I also get a perverse sense of happiness when I walk by a book I hated and ignore it. Take that, icky book. I WILL NOT SPREAD YOUR SUCKITUDE.

So that’s it. Any other booksellers out there have confessions to make? Unburden your soul, booksellers. Unburden your soul.

*Anyone get the Doctor Who reference? Anyone?