Hello, and welcome to Ask a Bookseller, in which we at Turnaround ask a bunch of questions to various booksellers. Next up we have Adele Twohig from Blackwell’s at the UCL Institute of Education, or “the High Street Fountain of Knowledge”, depending on what you prefer.
What do you get up to during a normal day at work?
Because I work in a small shop with just one other bookseller, we are left to our own mischievous devices, and we do lots of different things every day. I am obligated to stare at financial spreadsheets and make some kind of sense of them, but I much prefer chatting to customers, choosing books to stock, or reorganising sections.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading Gender Outlaws by Kate Bornstein and S Bear Bergman. It’s a compendium of pieces by transpeople and genderqueer “outlaws” detailing their journeys through lyrical prose, poetry or anecdotes. It’s a fantastic format for this kind of topic, as it develops the sense of multiplicity and fluidity of so many differing experiences and identities relating to gender expression.
Name three books on your reading list?
I should really properly re-read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I ran out of steam near the end. Despite this, and doing an ill-advised Master’s degree on Joyce’s Ulysses that resulted in a very first world nervous breakdown, I still haven’t shied away from massive tomes, and my second list item is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I feel like the title is mocking me before I’ve even begun. Another, more recent book on my to-read list is Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, supposed to be very weepy and romantic, something I relish in film but haven’t had the chance to experience properly in modern fiction. My friend has been raving about it for years, and needs me to read it so we can gush together.
What is the one book you wish you could sell to everyone who walks in your shop?
I was unexpectedly moved by a little book called My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte-Taylor. The author is a brain scientist who suffered a stroke, and because of her knowledge of the human brain, she was able to follow the stages of the stroke and her subsequent recovery. Her professional knowledge coupled with her personal trauma meant she could marry the magical-seeming abilities of the human mind with the science of the human brain. It may sound clinical, but her dual respect for both the abstract and scientific aspects of brain injury and mental health was surprisingly helpful, and I think about it very often.
Do you have a favourite publisher? If so, why are they your favourite?
I’m very fond of Zero Books, who publish countless niche sociological and political studies. I’ve been captivated by their titles so many times, so here’s a few favourites:
Boredom and Art: Passions of the Will To Boredom
Brad Pitt’s Dog: Essays on Fame, Death, Punk
Melancology: Black Metal Theory and Ecology
Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia
Romeo and Juliet in Palestine: Teaching Under Occupation
What kind of books would you like to see more of, and what kind do you wish publishers would stop publishing?
I’m always happy to see a new book, of any genre, but I do wish there was less gendering of the word, especially on children’s books. Whenever I read bedtime stories to my cousin’s 3 year old, there is usually far too much glitter on the page, adding nothing to the plot, and everything is about either fairies or princesses or an eye-watering combination of the two.
What’s the weirdest book-question you’ve ever been asked by a customer at work?
“Can you tell me who did the spoken word section on Michael Jackson’s Thriller?”
Bookshop customers don’t just come to us with book related questions! I like to think it’s because we are the high street equivalent of the fountain of knowledge.
Favourite book jacket OF ALL TIME?
My Postman Pat Story Time Book. That image will calm me down when all else fails, no intoxicating substances necessary, besides nostalgia. My mum can still recite most of the stories from memory.
We are totally with Adele both on the matters of gendering books and the calming Postman Pat jacket. Just look at it.
If you’re in the area be sure to visit Blackwell’s UCL, if only to see those glorious Montessori book covers IRL.
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 email@example.com.