Carrie Takes New York

Tonight, I’m packing my bags and packing my books (well, downloading my books to Kobo), because I’m about to head to New York. Am I going for the restaurants, the shopping, the sites? No. (Well, yes — I hope to fit some of that in.) But, really, I’m going for the books.


See, this week marks Book Expo America, a huge gathering of booksellers, librarians, publishers and authors. I’m going partly because I’m a big fan of books, and authors, and everything that goes along with that. (I’m really a huge fan of being a dork in general, and even the idea of sitting in a conference room and taking notes is kind of exciting to me.) And I’m going because it’s important for booksellers from around the country to actually meet with publishers and with authors.


I got my badge!


My job is to find books that my customers — you — will love. That involves reading (a lot) and talking to you about what I read. It involves blogging about books, and sometimes blogging about the book business. And it involves personally talking to publishers and authors about their work, and discovering ways to connect our customers in Birmingham, Alabama, with the perfect story.


Last time I went to BEA, I met some authors who’ve been huge in my world. I talked to Chuck Klosterman, who I’ve had a crush on ever since I randomly picked Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs out of an advance reader bin at a newspaper where I worked in 2002 (my obsession was nothing compared with the girl in front of me, who quoted long paragraphs from his book back to him). I met Tom Wolfe, who was the subject of my college thesis. I saw Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) jump off the stage into a crowd of booksellers, heard Jim Dale, much-loved reader of the Harry Potter audios, talk about how he conned his way into the job, and got a smile out of Chip Kidd (but forgot to ask him the one question I’ve always had about Cheese Monkeys).

The thing is, authors make strange celebrities, because, more often than not, they’re just as interested in you as you are in them. So many authors asked me about my shop, myself, and the readers that I knew. Gregory Maguire, who wrote Wicked (along with a host of other wonderfully twisted fairy tales), was surprised that Southern readers like his work — he thought we were easily shocked. I got to correct him, telling him we’re just as dark and twisted as the next reader (arguably more so).


This year, I have a list of books I’m dying to pick up and authors I’d like to meet. I won’t say who, because I don’t want to jinx it, but I will say several of them have been covered here on PostScript, both by me and by our other writers. I’m looking forward to picking up their new books, maybe talking some publishers into sending us some exciting signings this year, and learning some new things about the book business.


But, most of all, I want to bring a little bit of our story to them. I hope I get to tell them that Southern readers are a hugely intelligent and loyal group, even though we’re not portrayed that way. Maybe I’ll get to tell the story of our little bookstore, packed into an old Starbucks and run by two crazy ex-baristas (me and Cal) who had bigger dreams than investment accounts, but made it work anyway because of a community that’s embraced us. I hope I get to tell them that we love their books, and that they’ve made a difference in our lives.


This week is about everything that’s beautiful about books, and about our shop. Bookselling, still, is about stories and people, not super-saver shipping, computer generated “recommendations,” or an online system that prevents booksellers (and, by extension, readers) out of the loop. I, for one, hope it always stays that way.


Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.

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