Alli Rand, 34, has worked in bookselling for more than 10 years, including stints at R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn., and the Harvard Coop, Cambridge, Mass. She's currently a bookseller at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe, N.Mex. Here publisher's rep George Carroll puts a few questions to her.
You've worked in both very large and very small bookstores. What do they have in common?
What holds these places together are the booksellers and their love of books. The only advantage of a larger store is being able to tell a customer "yes, we have that" more often than not. The one thing that has kept me in this business for so long is my co-workers. The beauty of having diverse co-workers is that you hear about what they are reading. Being in the business is a life style--it doesn't end when we walk out the door. You stay up all night and read a book and then come into work the next day and sell five copies of it.
What interests you in bookselling?
I enjoy matching people with a book that I know they will love. When they return to the store to tell me they loved it and I help them find another book, it confirms what I love about writing, publishing and the industry as a whole. Good writing connects us in a way that no other medium does.
Kate Garber, who handles events and marketing at the Strand bookstore in New York City, and I created Fakest Bookshop as a way to keep our bookselling ideals alive. We wanted to take all the things we love about sharing books and displaying them in a creative way without worrying about making money. Kate does all the artwork and comes to me for crazy ideas, like how many books I can think of with animals on the cover.
What's it like working in a bookstore in a town that's a big tourist destination?
I would think most bookstores rely on some form of tourist traffic during a particular season. Tourists bring commerce to us all, and by sharing information about other businesses in town, we all benefit, survive and thrive enough to continue on to the next year. Tourist season here coincides with the hot summer desert heat--some people are dehydrated and cranky and want a mass-market bestseller that we've never carried. But mostly people on vacation are happy, and if I take a minute to talk with them about books that I love, recommend a great restaurant in town, and they get lemonade in our café, all is well.
Do you ever think of opening your own store or working in publishing?
I'm not sure I'd like to own my store. My dream is to travel around the world working at different bookstores, like Shakespeare & Co. in Paris and Atlantis Book Shop on Santorini.
I got a glimpse of the publishing world when I worked on the East Coast. It was tempting to know I could be on that track if I really wished to be, but I like being at the grassroots level, peddling my books, being on the front lines. Booksellers know what really sells and how influential we as sellers can be--and how influential readers can be.
What's your favorite thing about bookselling? And do you have a favorite section?
The ARCs that come from publishers. Recently I read a copy of Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. I couldn't wait to put this out as my staff pick and tell our customers why they should take it home. Word-of-mouth selling is a large part of what drives the book industry.
I have a deep affinity for cookbooks and I get asked a lot, "Can't you just look up a recipe on-line?" Well, you can, but there are still people, like me, who appreciate the feel of a cookbook propped up on the counter, splattered in chicken broth or jam. The fact that so many great cookbooks are being published and kept in print gives me hope that the digital age will only enhance, not eliminate, the printed book. The beauty of the digital age is information. If you need to know only how many tablespoons of butter are required, you can look it up online. But if you want to own a work of art, you have to buy the book.
The final question is from April Gosling, the last interviewee in our series:
During job interviews at Tattered Cover, we ask applicants what books they are passionate about and which other books they would recommend alongside those titles. What books would you put as requirements on your list... and why?
Here's my list:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte--to learn about aloneness.
Heat by Bill Buford--to learn to go in search in of your passion.
Jarhead by Anthony Swofford--to learn what it's like to be young and go to war.
Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen--to learn about love in all its various forms.
Kayak Morning by Roger Rosenblatt--to learn to appreciate nature amidst terrible loss.
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman--to learn how to feed yourself, simply and deliciously.