The Heart of a Bookstore
Arsen Kashkashian, Jeff Deutsch, Priyanka Malhotra & Shuchi Saraswat, moderated by Rick Simonson
If a room full of iconic booksellers cannot convince you to exchange the remote for a book, I doubt anything ever will. In the warmly-lit setting of the Durbar Hall, four booksellers conversed with Rick Simonson, who has been associated with Jaipur BookMark for several years, about the challenging business of curating books. The session acted as a primer in making the audience understand the labour that goes into creating, publishing and marketing books along with the joys of being a bookseller. Jeff Deutsch, who is associated with a 59 year old bookstore in Chicago, began by talking about the relevance of a bookstore: “For us, the notion of a bookstore is for discovering curiosity”, he said. “The bookstore is probably the only space that privileges the experience of browsing,” he added.
In the context of networking through a series of events like Jaipur BookMark, the writer Shuchi Saraswat, who is associated with the Brooklyn Booksmith store, noted that “The community we are building is huge.” Priyanka Malhotra, who is part of her family-run Full Circle bookstore, also passionately added that “People visit us because of the way in which we make them feel and engage them.”
The session then transitioned to the management perspective, of how bookstore managers can impart the passion of reading to people who work for them. Priyanka Malhotra provided several pointers such as “spending a lot of time with them, weekly briefings as well as creating a dialogue with them for them to develop a sense of the book.”
On the idea of maximising profits, Rick Simonson posed the question “How do you see backlisting as a way of carrying books forward?” Priyanka Malhotra compared the backlist to “the backbone of the bookstore.” As for books that don’t sell as much, Arsen Kashkashian, General Manager of the Boulder Bookstore, spoke frankly at the risk of “sounding like a crass businessman”. He minced no words and said “Our favourite kinds of books are the ones that sell.” He added “I do have books that pain me to return, but it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid, you’ve got to do it.”
Given that we live in a digital age, Simonson mused that “The conversation around books has probably got shorter.” For his final question, he quizzed the booksellers on this and other challenges they face. To this, Deutsch responded with a witty rejoinder that caused the audience to burst into uncontrollable giggles: “Why on earth should a U.S bookstore have to sell socks?”, he asked. Shuchi Saraswat stressed that the challenges of selling books stemmed from how welcoming a space is for customers.
For Priyanka Malhotra, the bookstore has to move beyond being four walls. This session reminded us of the many ways in which bookstores act as institutions of knowledge-sharing and intellectual stimulation. The heart of the bookstore throbs with the community that it builds, with every crisp turn of a page.