Hello, and welcome to Ask a Bookseller, in which we at Turnaround ask a bunch of questions to various booksellers. This week we have Lucy Binnersley from the really smashing Notting Hill Bookshop, London.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
My daily routine generally starts with opening the shop and doing the banking from the day before while consuming vast amounts of coffee. Usually, a couple of the locals will pop in to say ‘”Good Morning” – Notting Hill has a strong community vibe and the bookshop is very much central to that – which is great. After that, my colleague will come in and together we will come up with a plan for the day. I tend to do the customer orders and general buying, seeing of reps and displays in the early afternoon, but every day is different so you just have to be flexible in approach. We are a small team at the bookshop but we get a lot done that does not just revolve around bookselling – events, pop-up market stalls and school competitions. Being part of the community is really important to us.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Human Acts by Han Kang. I was a big fan of her novel The Vegetarian so was really excited to get a proof copy of Human Acts. The subject matter is completely different from The Vegetarian but the style is as searingly surreal.
What is the one book you wish you could sell to all customers?
I try to tailor my recommendations as personally as I can – it’s a fun game to play and I’ve actually been reading up quite a bit about the history and role of bibliotherapy lately, something I find fascinating. However at the moment I find that I am recommending Grief is a Thing with Feathers to lots of customers. I think that Max Porter is one of the cleverest and unusual contemporary writers around. I found this book stunningly beautifully and for such a tiny novella it was big on bravery in scope.
Do you have a favourite publisher?
I don’t have a favourite publisher – but I do really admire a number of independent publishers; Granta and Portobello for their authors’ strong contemporary, urgent voices, Pushkin Press for their focus on fiction in translation and uncovering past gems is illuminating, and Persephone books for their charming collection – I do feel that in-house publishers based in bookshops, such as Persephone, offer a unique selection of titles.
What kind of books would you like to see more of and which would you like publishers to stop publishing?
I think that publishers should be brave in what they choose to publish, bookshops should be brave with what they choose to sell, and readers should be brave in what they choose to read. I’ve always been a big advocate for challenging yourself when it comes to a book choice. I never like feeling comfortable while I read a book. So I’d like to keep seeing more contemporary and fresh voices that shake up the contemporary literary world. Hopefully, the stock choice at The Notting Hill Bookshop will reflect this – we are a small shop so each title really needs to justify being there. The best part of my job is curating our selection. I’m not really a fan of re-imagined classics that seem to be popping up more and more these days – but they do seem to be selling well as I think that people like the comfortable nostalgia they offer.
What’s the weirdest question you’ve been asked at the bookshop?
Where to begin? I was asked once if we had a book about “a book bus that visited Buckingham Palace and the Queen would take her hounds with her while she chose a book” (I think something was lost in translation at some point….but, still) It always surprises me how anxious and indecisive some customers get while trying to remember what book they are looking for – bookshops seem to be places that are taken quite seriously – people really invest themselves, not just their time and money into their book choices. I think. Being a bookseller is a bit of a curiosity at times – you’re constantly asked for advice, directions… and even to help someone propose to his girlfriend, which has happened twice at the bookshop where I currently work. Sometimes, it’s about so much more than books.
Favorite book cover of all time?
One of my best friends lent me a copy of a first edition of Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion that she found in a Parisian flea-market. It’s a really simple and symbolic cover – I love the story and whenever I see this cover I think of my friend and Parisian markets. I haven’t given it back to her yet. And I probably never will.
We’re very happy to have the Notting Hill Bookshop on this feature… it’s a real favourite! Go and pay them a visit and check out their events listings.
We are still on the hunt for more booksellers to take part in this feature. So if you are a bookseller who would like to answer some of our questions, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.