This month’s wonderful Bookseller in Spotlight is Emma Heyen, store manager at Harry Hartog Burnside Village in Adelaide.
What do you love most about being a bookseller?
Putting the right book into the right customer’s hand. I can pick out a handful of books that came into my life exactly when I needed them and being in the position to work as hard as I can to do that for someone else is extraordinary. I love speaking to people who fell out of love with reading, but are trying to find the perfect book to be their entry back. I love helping people find the right gift for their loved one. I love when you meet an avid reader and you’re falling on top of one another (figuratively) about books you both adored, or the ones you disagree about!
What’s your pet peeve about book retail?
That I can never leave without at least one new book to try and fit into my bookshelves at home. I have bought two new bookshelves since I started this job. Although it is all about perspective, because this is not necessarily a bad thing!
What can publishers do better?
I believe that it is necessary to interrogate bias and discrimination in every aspect of our lives, including whose stories we publish, how we publish them, and who gets to make those choices. The financial disparity between the marketing allocated to different authors from different backgrounds or communities, as well as the value attributed to their voices and work on panels, in discussions between people who work in the industry, and even between representatives from publishers and booksellers. It is essential that we assess every piece of work equitably, but more so I believe it is important to be aware of what we subconsciously associate with value and prestige.
We need to uplift work by people from all intersections of life, not just those who benefit from privilege, because then publishing will look like the world we live in – everybody will be able to see themselves in books, and everyone will know that if they have a book inside of them, that they have just as much of a chance to see it published as anyone else.
Has bookselling changed during coronavirus?
I believe it has in so many ways, as has everything, but in all truth, we have been incredibly lucky here in Adelaide. We returned to a sense of (hesitant and careful) normalcy faster than nearly any other place in the world. During the tight grips of it, our customers were incredibly encouraging. We had a home delivery service to local suburbs as well as a form on our website where customers could get personalised recommendations from our staff. They kept buying books, supporting us, and came back into the store as soon as it was safe. There have been huge changes to events, and to travel, but I’m personally grateful that I can see our locals here at Harry Hartog more or less like we did before COVID-19 reached Australia.
Is there a book that you think everyone should read?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt – it blows my mind that it was her debut! It is a masterclass in how to craft the perfect novel! She nails tone, pace, atmosphere, character, and the twists and turns of a truly un-put-downable story. The book is over 600 pages long and I remember wishing it wouldn’t ever end. Truly one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read.
What is a recent Australian title you loved?
Kokomo by Victoria Hannan! She spoke at this year’s Adelaide Writer’s Week, although I missed it because I was in the store. It’s Hannan’s debut novel, and it bursts with character, love, grief, and devotion. It makes you comfortable in what you believe she is showing you, then halfway through spins it completely on its head to reveal things not only about her protagonist and the story, but about your presumptions and ideas. Kokomo was one of those stay up way too late books because I didn’t put it down when I should have and now must rollercoaster to the end. I try to put it into as many people’s hands as I physically can.