Hello, and welcome to Ask a Bookseller, in which we at Turnaround ask a bunch of questions to various booksellers. Next up is Luke Rhodes from Blackwell’s, Holborn.
What do you get up to during a normal day at work?
My title at Blackwell’s is Business Centre Manager – which might mean absolutely nothing to most people who read it. Essentially I run the department that looks after our corporate, professional and institutional customers based in London and other parts of the world; universities, businesses, banks etc. While I take the opportunity to go out and meet these customers whenever I can, it does mean I’m often found glued to my desk answering emails and working on spreadsheet after spreadsheet. Having started out as a part time bookseller at a little campus bookshop a few years ago I can’t help but wander out on to the shop floor to serve a few customers and have a chat and to just have some actual books pass through my hands when the spreadsheets start taking over.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently in-between books. I’ve not long finished Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, but I’m about to start Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage for our shop’s Book Club that starts in about 2 weeks.
Name three books on your reading list?
My reading list doesn’t fit on three shelves never mind three books, though the last three books I bought, and eventually took home after weeks of sitting on my desk, were Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, and Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth.
What is the one book you wish you could sell to everyone who walks in your shop?
There’s a really adorable little book published by Hoxton Mini Press (and distributed by Turnaround – not intentional) called I’ve Lived in East London for 85 1/2 Years. I think about Joseph, the subject of the book, every time I wander around the streets of East London.
Do you have a favourite publisher? If so, why are they your favourite?
A lot of the books on my shelf are Penguin. I love their Modern Classics collection as well as the little Great Ideas series they have. It also helps that our rep with them is absolutely brilliant and is always introducing us to some great authors at events. Their Strand offices have a lovely rooftop river view over London too so I’m always being nice to our rep in an attempt to wangle invites to parties up there.
What kind of books would you like to see more of, and what kind do you wish publishers would stop publishing?
“Never judge a book by its cover” really doesn’t apply to me. I’m a sucker for any books that look nice. About 70% of my bookshelves remain unread as I only bought the books that sit on them because they looked aesthetically pleasing, and now I have no interest in what’s inside them. So, more handsome looking books please. If it’s a good book and looks good on the eye as well, I’m sold. And stop publishing anything with a terrible cover. I will never buy it. I’m sorry.
What’s the weirdest book-question you’ve ever been asked by a customer at work?
Saturdays on Charing Cross Road were ripe for this sort of thing. There were so many that it’s genuinely hard to pick one out as THE weirdest. I did once have someone get surprisingly angry when I told them I hadn’t read every single book in the shop. They were shocked that I could make any recommendations at all. I used to get a lot of people calling the shop to ask for directions to somewhere absolutely nowhere near us too. No interest in buying a book at all.
Favourite book jacket OF ALL TIME?
I love the Penguin English Library and Penguin Cloth Bound Classics book covers. They are just beautiful. I actually met the designer of most of them at an event once, and she is lovely too. Her name is Coralie Bickford-Smith if you’d like to check out her work.
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