This month’s Bookseller in Spotlight is Jack from Berkelouw Books’ fabulous Leichhardt store.
How did you get into bookselling?
I began as a humble gift-wrapper under the stairs at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown when I was a high-schooler. Throughout university I worked in a museum before returning to bookselling work when I moved to London a few years ago. Happy to be continuing the trend now that I’m back in Sydney!
What do you love most about being a bookseller?
I love the constant attention diversion that is discovering new books or writers, whether it be through new releases coming into the store, or that moment when you realise you and a customer love the same book.
What’s your pet peeve about book retail?
When people assume that just because they love an author it’s consequently an outrage that we don’t stock them.
What can publishers do better?
Has bookselling changed during coronavirus?
I didn’t actually work at Berkelouw during the early stages of the pandemic, but my colleagues say it was a very chaotic time, with minimal staff and lots of customers coming in. Our store created more space in the interest of social distancing, which is a feature that will remain. I think people were actually starting to read more during lockdown, albeit without as much of a community around them. Also, a willingness to engage in conversation in store, and just slow down and make time for that kind of relationship.
What kinds of books do you gravitate towards?
I usually like to have a classic and a contemporary novel on the go, and generally like a more literary style featuring a bit of realism or drama. In recent years I’ve also become more of a non-fiction reader, whether it be crazy tales of espionage or medical history.
Is there a book that you think everyone should read?
Just to go a bit left of field, I’d say the autobiography of former editor of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. All of his body was paralysed apart from an eyelid after a car crash, and he ‘dictated’ the whole book to his nurses using just the blink of an eye. It is an incredibly empathetic, emotional, and poetic read; a courageous story of human connection against extraordinary odds. The movie is great too.
What was the last interaction with a customer that made you laugh?
We sell socks in our store, some of them featuring some edgy slogans. A young child was at just the right height to read out, at full volume, a particularly inappropriate message, which she did while looking questioningly at her mother.
What is a recent Australian title you loved?
Friends and Dark Shapes by Kavita Bedford – a remarkable debut novel about life in inner Sydney, with a comforting narrative voice that explores loss, connection and place in a relatable and refreshing way.