For this month’s Bookseller in Spotlight, we chat to Jo Case from the beloved Imprints Booksellers in Adelaide’s West End.
What do you love most about being a bookseller?
I love being immersed in conversations about books with customers, with my co-workers, and with publishers’ reps as they float in and out, where we discuss what’s good, what’s supposed to be good (but isn’t), and what we’re looking forward to.
I love discovering hidden gems through what other people are reading, and watching publishing trends emerge and how people respond to them. For instance, so many of the big new September novels by Australian women seem to have anxiety as a major theme: Kokomo by Victoria Hannan (Hachette), The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey (Allen & Unwin) and Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (Harper Collins). It’s fascinating to see something like that emerge across publishers. I’m also seeing a huge appetite for natural history books, particularly bird books, and I keep thinking that Affirm was ahead of the curve in snapping up Harry Saddler’s The Eastern Curlew, which you published in a beautiful gift edition a few years ago.
The main reason I keep coming back to bookselling, I think, is the way it grounds you in a community of readers. A couple of years ago I moved back to Adelaide after 21 years away, and working at Imprints was integral to helping me feel like I live here again.
What’s your pet peeve about book retail?
When customers tell me they’ll buy the book online if we don’t have it in stock, or that they do most of their reading on a Kindle. I always think, why do you have to TELL me that?
Has bookselling changed during coronavirus?
Imprints stayed open all through coronavirus but we reduced our trading hours, eliminating late-night trading on Thursdays and Fridays and no longer working on Sundays. In the first weeks of lockdown only Jason and Katherine, the co-owners, worked in the shop. Obviously with fewer customers coming into the shop during lockdown, our online presence became much more important during this time. As such, I started to work from home managing Imprints’ social media (Instagram and Facebook), which is now an ongoing arrangement. We also started doing personalised home deliveries, with Jason and Katherine delivering books to customers within a roughly 5km radius of the shop.
What’s really different now with coronavirus is the way it affected release cycles, with many titles originally scheduled for publication earlier this year delayed and a historic glut of new releases in September as a result.
Is there a book that you think everyone should read?
Barking Dogs by Rebekah Clarkson! Really though, as a bookseller, I’m not sure there is a right answer to that question – I think everyone should read the best books that fit their tastes and the mood they’re in at the time of reading. I believe in cutting the recommendation to fit the reader; the two questions I ask a customer looking for a recommendation is what kind of books they like, and what books they recently read and liked.
But I do think Barking Dogs (a linked story collection set in Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills) is a smart, funny, affecting and just beautifully written book that every Adelaide literary reader should read.
Oh, I also think Jess Hill’s INCREDIBLE book of reportage on domestic violence in Australia, See What You Made Me Do (Black Inc.), is a book that everyone should read if they want to understand the realities and complexities of domestic violence and how we should respond to it as a society. That book gave me literal nightmares while reading it but I’m so glad it did as I feel like it’s helped me understand the reality behind the news cycle so often since. I wish every Australian judge, politician and policymaker could be forced to read it.
What was the last interaction with a customer that made you laugh?
Customers make me laugh all the time! It’s hard to remember what the most recent funny encounter was. But my most memorable funny moments with customers at Imprints come from one regular who I would serve every Thursday. He’s a black-clad, long-haired record-store guy who always comes in via Clarity Records and has ongoing special orders both there and with Imprints. He has a wealth of funny stories: the anecdote of going to a girl’s house after the Big Day Out because she was house-sitting a place with an iguana and he said he knew how to feed them; the time he almost amputated his own toe but changed his mind and went to the hospital; and, my favourite, the time a pub he was drinking at was held up at gunpoint and he drunkenly thought it was an amateur theatre performance and stuck a finger down the barrel of the gun, making the gunman freak out and run away.
A close second is the time I had to ring my high school French teacher to tell him his Inspector Maigret books by Georges Simenon had come in. He just paused, a few beats longer than normal, then said, ‘That is the most appalling French pronunciation’.