September 13, 2012

Talking shop with an indie bookseller


This is a new and occasional series that asks some of our favorite independent booksellers four simple questions. The questions are the same, but the answers (predictably) vary. If you’re interested in the business of bookselling, read on for a quick shot of indy insight — this week, it comes compliments of Tara Metal, from Harvard Book Store in Cambridge.

1) Could you tell us something of the history of your bookstore? What’s your role there?

Harvard Book Store is an independently run bookstore located in Harvard Square and has been family-owned since 1932. We are known for our extraordinary selection of new, used, and bargain books and for a history of innovation. In 2009, we introduced same-day environmentally-friendly bike delivery and a book-making robot capable of printing and binding any of millions of titles in minutes. Our award–winning author event series draws nightly crowds, and this Fall’s series will feature authors including Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Junot Diaz, Salman Rushdie, Barbara Kingsolver, and John Banville. I’m the store’s Marketing Coordinator.

2) What got you into selling books? What keeps you inspired, or I guess what keeps you dejected if that’s how you’re feeling lately?

I began working as bookseller after graduating from college. I made a last minute decision to move to Cambridge, a few days later saw the posting for an opening at Harvard Book Store, and applied without hesitation. I thought, “Hey, I’m well-read, I love being surrounded by books, and I can spend all day talking to people about reading–I’ll be good at this!” Of course, having never worked retail, I was in for some surprises. After settling into life as a bookseller, I transitioned to the marketing department, and now I spend my days promoting our store and running author events, which we host nearly every day in the Fall. I feel great about the work we do when customers contact me to rave about the wonderful time they had at an event, or comment on how much they enjoy our weekly newsletters. This happens more often than you’d think, and it’s always a nice reminder that people really are still reading, still buying books in droves, and still making their way to Harvard Square to spend an hour with their favorite authors.

3) If your bookstore were to be granted one wish—by the ghost of Sylvia Beach, let’s say—what would it be?

Hmmm. I think a dead author dinner party would be pretty stellar wish fulfillment. We could roll the shelves away, string up some lights, and invite all of the writers we wish we could have met (and spend all day talking about). The ultimate author event!

4) What’s one book, ours or otherwise, that you’re looking forward to?

I really can’t wait to read Junot Diaz’s new collection of short stories (love stories!), This Is How You Lose Her. I fell hard for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and I’m a sucker for love stories, so this is just about as high as my expectations get for upcoming releases. Diaz is doing an event with us on September 26th, and the way ticket sales are going it seems that everyone in Cambridge is still as infatuated with him is I am! (Not that this comes as a surprise). I’m also looking forward to Philip Pullman’s retelling of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, because, really, talk about an author match made in heaven. Chris Ware’s Building Stories and Alice Munro’s new collection, Dear Life, are my other personal must-reads this Fall.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.