January 7, 2016

Ask a bookseller—Book Court’s Bonnie Chau



In life, there are always big questions. But where can you find the big answers? From your local indie bookseller, of course! In this monthly feature, some of our favorite booksellers will answer those questions we know you’re dying to ask.

This month’s guest is Bonnie Chau of Book Court in Brooklyn, New York.

Bonnie is from Southern California, where she studied art history and English literature at UCLA, and ran writing programs at the nonprofit, 826LA. She received her MFA in fiction and translation from Columbia University. She has received a Kundiman Fellowship, and her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Flaunt, Columbia Journal Online, AAWW’s The Margins, Drunken Boat, and Timber. In addition to her job as a bookseller, Bonnie works at Poets & Writers.

What’s your mantra?
I had a piece of paper taped above my desk for a while, on which I’d written “And how’s that working out for you…?” Does that count? Is that depressing?

Your greatest extravagance?
Books and cheese. Lingerie that I never wear. The books and cheese I put to good use though. I don’t know—I once spent $60 on tickets to Madame Tussauds wax museum as a gift for someone, and then lost the tickets. That seems extravagant.

Favorite size of book?
I like the size of books put out by Dorothy, a publishing project.

Favorite sandwich?
Ham and cheese and tomato. Also BLT. Also Monte Cristo.

The sound that you hate the most?
That tiny squeezy whiny mosquito-in-your-ear-when-you’re-in-bed sound.

Best cheap lunch within walking distance of your job?
I’ve been getting the veggie slice at Pronto for years. It used to be $3.75, but just went up to $4 about a month ago. I go there even though My Little Pizzeria is generally acknowledged as the superior pizza place, but I don’t have to cross Atlantic Avenue to get to Pronto. Which makes a difference when you only have thirty minutes.

Favorite last name of an author?
Xue is nice, soundwise. And the letters look good together. I don’t really know if it counts as a last name, though, since it’s a Chinese pseudonym, but it means snow. And is a homophone for blood.

The book all teenagers should read?
David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives.

If you could only play one album on repeat all day long in the store, the full 12-ish hours of the day, what would it be?
We have a store iPod with store-approved music. Some of my go-to’s are Tortoise, Caribou, T. Rex, Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, or Billy Bragg/Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue.

Where’s the restroom?
Oh god. Our restroom is only open to the public during events now. But I used to say a lot of “just through to the back; make a sharp left,” accompanied by confusing hand gestures.

What, in your opinion, is a book?
I suppose I like my books pretty traditional—paper pages. But I think there’s interesting stuff going on with a lot of artist books, handmade books using different materials, books like The Pickle Index that are expanding into strange digital realms.

Book(s) most frequently stolen from your bookstore?
Recently, the Harry Potter hardcover(!) books. The Game of Thrones series.

Least favorite question from a book buyer?
Least favorite question in life? Honestly I don’t mind most questions from people buying books. I kind of love it when people are looking for a book recommendation for a gift for someone they know nothing about, or they don’t know the book title or the author’s name, but maybe they know one word from the title or one color that was on the book’s cover or it was maybe mentioned on NPR five months ago. Because then I get to do my job and help them figure it out. One thing that’s hard is when people ask for recommendations for great novels with happy endings, that are uplifting. That’s not totally up my alley. But I try my best. Another least favorite thing is when I’m gift-wrapping a book, and ask them what color ribbon they want and they are like, “You choose! Whichever one you’d like! Choose your favorite color!” Or they’re like, “Well, the present is for a little boy,” or, “the present is for a little girl, so…” So what? When they say that, I just stare blankly at them and wait until they figure out that I’m not going to say anything.