Hello, and welcome to Ask a Bookseller, in which we at Turnaround ask a bunch of questions to various booksellers. Next up is Marion Rankine, who works at Foyles Charing Cross Road, London.
What do you get up to during a normal day at work?
I look after library and business orders, so, aside from the quoting and the ordering and the invoicing, my day can involve all kinds of things: taking school groups on tours of the shop, buying champagne and making personalised bookplates for wedding list customers, preparing selections of books for interior design shoots and bars – even building a school library from scratch!
Name three books on your reading list?
I’m writing a book about umbrellas at the moment, so all things brollyphilic: Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, Will Self’s Umbrella, and this gorgeous old leather-bound volume from 1847 called Memoirs of an Umbrella, by George Herbert Rodwell.
What is the one book you wish you could sell to everyone who walks in your shop?
For the longest time, my stock answer to this was Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. But then I read Gilgi, by Irmgard Keun, and it’s knocked Vonnegut right off his perch.
Do you have a favourite publisher? If so, why are they your favourite?
Ouch, that’s a tough one. There are so many wonderful presses out there it’s hard to choose favourites. Can I pick five? They’d have to be: Deep Vellum (publishing incredible fiction in translation), & Other Stories (again, excellent fiction in translation), Text Publishing (an independent Australian publisher committed to supporting contemporary and classic Australian authors) Scribe (Melbourne/London publisher of creative non-fiction), annnnnnnnd, on the strength of one book alone, Fitzcarraldo Editions (Eula Biss’s On Immunity is brilliant).
What kind of books would you like to see more of, and what kind do you wish publishers would stop publishing?
All the fantastic writing that happens off in the margins of mainstream publishing – the odd, the different, the bent, the challenging. There are loads of tiny presses working so hard to support writers who don’t fit the traditional formulas (whether it’s language, subject matter, writing style…) – I just hope that their efforts will inspire mainstream publishers to take more risks, and go out on a limb for more new and original writers. What I’d like to see less of… anything supposedly nonfiction that peddles misinformation, whether it’s poorly researched, non-peer-reviewed, or presents dodgy research as fact. I think there’s so much obfuscation floating about on the internet that the printed word seems to be invested with even more authority than it used to… and seeing that abused really gets up my nose.
What’s the weirdest book-question you’ve ever been asked by a customer at work?
It’s not exactly a book-question, but this one’s stuck with me (ahem) for some time…
Customer: Do you know how to get superglue off your fingers?
Me: Erm… I’m not too sure, to be honest.
Customer: [outraged] But you work in a bookshop!!
Favourite book jacket OF ALL TIME?
I’m much too fickle to have a steady, dependable answer to this, but the New Directions edition of Clarice Lispector’s The Complete Stories is stunning.
Be sure to head over to Marion’s website – there are some super interesting pieces of writing on there and a really fantastic selection of books Marion likes, so you’ll never be short of ideas. And don’t forget to follow her brilliant umbrella project over on twitter!
We are still looking for booksellers to take part in this feature, especially those in other parts of the country. So if you are a bookseller who would like to answer some of our questions, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.