In Praise of Young Booksellers

The Old Dogs of bookselling, when we're not reminiscing about our libertine behavior in the glory days (late '60s to early '90s), are passing the mantle, entrusting talented young booksellers to carry on this increasingly difficult business. And we have a pretty good feeling about it because the current generation is the best in many years. They're smart--actually, they're really smart--and creative and knowledgeable.

They might be standing behind the counter in your local bookstore because of the economy, not able to find jobs in a higher paying field. But I think it's something better and bigger and more positive than that. Most of them are there because they want to be there. I'm not saying they don't have designs on the publishing side of the business, which has slightly better pay and benefits--but they're not treating their bookselling job like a placeholder. And they're taking a risk: being a bookseller in the current bricks-and-mortar world is sometimes precarious.

These young booksellers are iconoclasts. Their lexicon is different. They use curate to describe how they choose and maintain inventory; gateway to describe helping customers discover new subjects and new genres. They are more likely to read a review on the Millions, the Quarterly Conversation and Three Percent, and (nepotism alert) Shelf Awareness than in the New York Times Book Review.

Networking has made them adept at handselling books and creating word-of-mouth successes. Many of them are well read in what a friend of mine calls "the pennies," minor classics that will never hit the bestseller list, books that may not even end up on a digital reader.

For the past few months, I've interviewed some young booksellers for Shelf Awareness for Readers' sister newsletter, Shelf Awareness Pro for the book trade. Meet Jeff Waxman, Stephen Sparks, Jenn Witte and Danielle Borsch. --George Carroll, an independent publishers' representative (and Shelf soccer editor) and longtime bookstore worker

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