Buy a new book to read and ponder (or take up place in your bookshelf, that’s fine too).
As we end our second year mired in this pandemic, our buying habits have reflected the sign of the times: We want comfortable clothes, and appliances that make life easier. We also want books. While nothing will replace the joy of buying in a bookstore, a few independent, online sellers have cropped up over the last few years to fill that hole in our lives.
Page & Turner PH
The Page & Turner PH proprietor used to blog at The Literary Stew (theliterarystew.blogspot.com), writing book reviews since 2009. Nowadays, she has moved her operations on Twitter (@theliterarystew).
Page & Turner started selling books on Instagram and her website on September 1st of this year. “Besides being a bookworm, I love hunting for books, so it just seemed like the next step,” she says. She mentions that part of the appeal is helping people select their next read. “Many people love to read but they don’t know what to choose. They’re overwhelmed when they step into a bookstore,” she says. Her small online shop with carefully selected titles helps them.
Her other customers are like her, bookworms and book hunters who know exactly what they want. “Usually it’s the hard-to-find books. I also learn a lot from my customers. My to-be-read pile is growing because of them,” she says.
Over the pandemic, Page & Turner noticed that due to people staying at home, reading habits have grown. “Maybe they have more time to read. Plus, everyone is doing online shopping for everything now and that includes books,” she says. There are different buyers, she adds, such as those who enjoy new releases or popular books, and then “Current literary darlings – authors like Rachel Cusk, Clarice Lispector, Natalia Ginsburg, Tove Ditlevsen, to name a few. They’re the current favorites. I wish I could predict who the next ones will be.”
Having been on Book Twitter for over 10 years, Page & Turner says it’s one of the places she goes to get her ideas on what to read next or hat to sell. She also sells books that she has read and enjoy. “Unfortunately, I cannot read everything I sell, though I wish I could, so the rest are books I’d love to read or that I intuitively know are good.”
Page & Turner recommends that new customers check out the Persephone Books on her website. An imprint out of London that sells reprints of neglected books from the mid-twentieth century; she is a big fan of their aesthetically pleasing look and engaging stories. “If not a Persephone, then try something translated. NYRB Classics has a lot of translated books or just step out of your comfort zone and try something new – a new genre, a new author.”
When I asked what her favorite books are, she told me “It’s so hard to name just one so can I name a few?” For her, it’s The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Magus by John Fowles, and all of JD Salinger’s Stories.
Blithe Books Independent
Blithe Books’ favorite book is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. The reason they started selling books on Instagram and their website are because she missed browsing in bookstores. “We bought some for ourselves online, and to save on shipping, decided to get some for sale as well.” This was in November 2020, and today Blithe Books has a great website, and Shop Our Shelf program, which allows loyal customers to check out the upcoming selections before they go up on sale.
When selecting books for Blithe Books, at first it was all about the books she loved and wanted to read, and books about nature. This is the concept Blithe Books was built on. However, as good business owners, they knew that variety is the spice of life. “It became important to have something for every kind of reader, so we made it a point to visit every genre and see what the mainstays there are,” she says. “So now I think that defines what we have. Titles that have stuck for some time and created an impression among its select readers”
While they try not to have a look at what other sellers are selling, as a practical matter they do sell new books and follow publishers’ recommendations and early reviews. They also read “best of” lists, taking a look at what people in a particular field are reading. “For example, Clarissa Ward when the Afghanistan crisis hit for non-fiction,” she says, adding that they also look at interesting historical and contemporaneous people for biographies.
While they started selling only during the pandemic and can’t compare trends and habits from before, they say there is a current trend of buyers looking for Asian authors and topics relating to race and gender equality.
If she could change anything about modern reading and buying habits, it would be people’s propensity to buy books too quickly. “I wish people had a moment to see,” she says. “They don’t seem to anymore.” At the last #ShopOurShelf, she mentions there was a book about first accounts on the sinking of the Titanic that went unsold. “It was so interesting. There were very detailed entries seeming to recount a calm and ordinary life at first and then the tragedy,” she says. “To read it is like to read something with the dread of an insider because you know what happens after.”
Mark Anglo Ortega, 25 years old, is a librarian and a bookseller. Always having a passion for books, this was strengthened by working as a licensed professional librarian. “In the school library where I work, I always love helping students find books that they enjoy and giving them access to those,” he says. In 2018, this planted the seed in his mind to start BnB with books from his collection. “It made me want to extend my service to other people and opening an online bookstore was a natural fit.”
Having noted that his clients gravitate towards well-regarded novels, both contemporary favorites, and canonical books, Ortega says that during the pandemic, his readers tend to gravitate towards titles that offer a refreshing escape. “There are less dystopian titles in favor of more light and hopeful themes.”
Ortega himself loves memoirs. “Reading someone else’s life and learning a handful of things from it helps me, in some ways, take on the challenges of life,” he says. A book that helped him greatly was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. “When my dad passed away, I had a difficult time focusing on anything, except this one book that offered me a reprieve from my thoughts and [was a companion] in grief.”
After having run an indie online bookstore for a few years, Ortega knows that how you create your stock is mostly a reflection of your preferences and personality. “When choosing titles to offer, I always go for books that I enjoy reading,” he says, adding that he doesn’t discriminate: “I also try to keep up with what’s new or what everyone else seems to be raving about, and [looking into] a variety of blogs and websites, particularly from the vibrant community of Bookstagram.”
His recommendations for anyone looking for a new read is to look into translated literature and poetry books. “[These are] you rarely see at the local bookstore chains,” he says. With the spate of many online sellers, Ortega has no issue with those in the business with him, even if they are competitors. “We don’t have to be directly competing with each other because there are so many books out there,” he says. “What is most important is that people have more access to a well-curated selection of books. This is what I strive to bring to the table with my business, and this is my hope for other shops as well.”
Follow @bookendsbeginnings for available titles