Hello, and welcome to Ask a Bookseller, in which we at Turnaround ask a bunch of questions to various booksellers. Next up is fiction wizard Rachel Darling, who works at Foyles Charing Cross Road, London.
What do you get up to during a normal day at work?
Now I work part-time I tend to be very customer focussed these days – the fiction department desk at the new Foyles can be a little quieter than the rest of the shop so I can afford to spend more time with customers who have lengthy queries or requests. I seem to spend a lot of time making lists either for customers or for in-store use. The shop lists usually go towards making up displays – tables or wall squares – things like books with fictional languages in them; novels all written by authors with the surname Smith; novels with fruit in the titles, novels centred around an item of clothing…
What are you reading right now?
Kevin Barry’s new novel Beatlebone. I met him recently in Prague at a conference about the Irish author Flann O’Brien, and am delighted he’s been nominated for the Goldsmiths Prize. I’m also getting into audiobooks and have been listening to Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. I have read (and loved) the book, but I find the audio version incredibly soothing – I listen to wind down before I go to sleep.
Name three books on your reading list?
House of Leaves which has been on my list for over a year and keeps getting shunted down as it’s too big to carry around. Also Adrift in Soho by Colin Wilson and According to Mark by Penelope Lively.
What is the one book you wish you could sell to everyone who walks in your shop?
The books I have most recommended over the years are Money by Martin Amis and The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, but at the moment I mostly find myself pushing My Brilliant Friend, to those not familiar with Ferrante (if there is anyone left!), or a short story collection called An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk by Jessie Greengrass. I didn’t even like short stories until I read it, that’s how stunning it is!
Do you have a favourite publisher? If so, why are they your favourite?
I love Dalkey Archive for their mix of experimental fiction and academic stuff, but at the moment I’m very excited by a new press called Dodo Ink. They haven’t published anything yet but I think they’re doing very important work, promoting daring works that are difficult to classify.
What kind of books would you like to see more of, and what kind do you wish publishers would stop publishing?
I think small, independent presses have really started to come in to their own and publish really incredible, innovative fiction which is reinvigorating the novel – so I’d like to see more of this please! In terms of what I want stopped… it seems there are getting to be a few too many of these colouring books for grown-ups floating around at the moment.
What’s the weirdest book-question you’ve ever been asked by a customer at work?
So many, even from just the past week, it’s hard to pick just one! I did once get asked if all the books were real. REAL WHAT?! Real stories, or real books? I actually really enjoy the impossibly vague questions, ones that begin ‘I’m looking for a book, it’s green, and it’s by a woman. I think the name begins with F,’ because sometimes I can still guess them!
Favourite book jacket OF ALL TIME?
That’s so hard. I’ve stood in front of my bookcases for days staring but think I have to go with this edition of Brave New World from Harper Perennial. I ordered it for stock purely because it has a foreword by Christopher Hitchens but it’s so simple and striking. The bronze dots are embossed. I believe it’s the first book I bought after our new Charing Cross branch opened, so it’s got that memory attached too.
Thanks Rachel Darling! Happy to hear you have #ferrantefever too.
Sidenote: given the context of this post we must congratulate Rachel for finishing her PhD recently and becoming a ‘Doctor of Fiction.’
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