Bookseller spotlight: Leni James from Neighbourhood Books
Welcome to UQP's Bookseller Spotlight, our new blog series showcasing Q&As with booksellers from all over Australia. We know what a tough time it is right now for bookstores, and we hope our Bookseller Spotlight can bring some much deserved attention to independent bookshops and the front-line workers of the publishing industry - our booksellers.
In our inaugural Bookseller Spotlight, we meet Leni James from Neighbourhood Books in Northcote, Victoria.
What’s the first book that you remember having an impact on you?
Back Home by Michelle Magorian, about a child evacuee returning to England from America after the war. She’s so culture shocked, having basically grown up American. It’s about her and her family trying to be together again but not really knowing how since the war changed them all so much and made them strangers to each other. I loved that book. I think (to my shame) I even nicked it from the school library when I was about eight so I could keep it forever.
Who were some of your favourite authors as a child?
I loved Emily Rodda and the Teen Power Inc. series, I was a die-hard Robin Klein fan. Still am, really. John Marsden, Paul Jennings, Judy Blume.
How long have you been working at your bookstore? Can you tell us about the store and the community it serves?
Neighbourhood has been open for two years and I’ve been here for about a year and half. We’ve a community of passionate, intelligent and prolific readers. You could say we specialise in contemporary Australian fiction and a lot of the authors we sell are our neighbours and customers as well! We love to support our local literary community.
What drew to you becoming a bookseller?
A deep love of reading and writing really, like everyone else I think. And being a truly dodgy barista.
What did an average day look like for you pre-COVID? And post-COVID?
Pre-COVID, chatting away with customers, giving recommendations, hosting and attending book launches and author talks, shooting the breeze with the couriers as stock was delivered, dusting, merchandising, meeting with reps. Post-COVID, picking orders, wrapping books and LOTS of phone and email time, with Dan’s daily presser livestreaming on the computer.
What’s the best part about being a bookseller?
Bookselling has made me a better reader and expanded my taste enormously. The best part is feeling like what I do is something good and meaningful in a world that needs a lot of that.
Any memorable customer interactions?
One customer who I haven’t met before leaves me poems and cryptic literary clues in her online order notes every week. I respond with the next verse or solution on the brown paper I wrap her books in. When it’s all over I should shout her a drink for the fun and sense of connection that has given me.
What advice would you give someone wanting to work in bookselling?
Attend the events at your local bookstores, say hello and get to know people in the book community. It’s a welcoming community and different opportunities come up all the time.
Who are some of your favourite Australian authors?
This year I have loved work by Laura Jean McKay, Omar Sakr, and Madeline Watts.
Do you have any favourite UQP titles?
How can we follow your bookstore online?