A great bookstore is a heart of a neighborhood, and that’s certainly the case with Greenlight Bookstore that opened in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood in 2009. A second location was opened in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in 2016. Both locations put on a plethora of great events and are staffed by brilliant booksellers—with seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of interesting books—such as Jarrod Annis. We talked to Annis about community bookstores, bookselling, and how authors can help booksellers.
How long have you been a bookseller? What attracted you to the job?
I’ve been a bookseller for seven years. What could be better than being in a space all day where you’re paid to geek out about the things you love? I love to read, of course, but I also really enjoy talking with readers. It always leads me to books I might not have ever found on my own. It’s great to like books and to enjoy reading but, as a bookseller, I find it’s equally important to enjoy people.
Can you tell us about Greenlight Bookstore and what makes it unique?
Every bookstore is defined by its surrounding neighborhood, and that’s certainly true of both our locations—the needs and sensibilities of the community inform the bookstore. We do a lot of work outside the bookstore with schools, which is a way to invest in future readers. We’re also fortunate to have a staff with backgrounds in different areas of bookselling, so there’s a lot of accumulated and concentrated bookselling knowledge at the store. That said, while we’re certainly building on a strong lineage and tradition of bookselling, we’re also looking forward as much as possible with our digital presence. At Greenlight, we’re always expanding our idea of what a business model for a bookstore can look like.
It seems like Greenlight has a reading or book launch party almost every night of the week. Is being a community literary space important to you?
Absolutely—that’s part of the reason we do what we do. We love being a place where readers and authors can access and engage each other, where questions can be asked and conversations can start. We’ve had some events—Zadie Smith and George Saunders, Rachel Cusk, or any of our quarterly poetry salons—where people are jammed together into every possible nook of the store. To hear an author speak is to be that much closer to a book they’ve loved and appreciated. The goal is always to get people into the bookstore who have never been there before.
Booksellers are an integral part of the publishing world, but authors don’t always understand what they do. What’s something that every author should know about booksellers?
You can get loads of marketing and publicity from publishers, but booksellers actually put books into the hands of readers. Booksellers are invested in learning about all the titles stocked in their store, and are experts at finding a book’s readership, in a way that metadata can’t match.
What can authors do to help booksellers sell their books?
Lots of times, debut authors come in when on-sale day arrives, expecting us to know all about their book. Take the time to invest in booksellers. Talk with us. We’re resources, and we’re in tune with overarching trends of what our customers are requesting, as well as the very practical realities of stocking books. I recently spoke with an author who was lobbying for a certain cover stock while her publisher was insisting on another, and I was able to help her out because I have knowledge—and more than a few opinions—about cover stock. When authors actively get to know booksellers, they get closer to knowing their readers.
In your personal reading, how do you decide what to read?
I talk to booksellers.
What are some books that have grabbed you recently?
Well, just to name a few...
Eleanor, or the Rejection of the Progress of Love by Anna Moschovakis (Coffee House Press), Renee Gladman’s Ravickian novels (Dorothy, A Publishing Project), Dear Angel of Death by Simone White (Ugly Duckling Presse), Milk by Dorothea Lasky (Wave), The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman (Two Dollar Radio), Professionals of Hope by Subcomandante Marcos (Song Cave), Marie Redonnet’s triptych of short novels (which somebody should reissue!), and I’m looking forward to the new edition of The Echo Tree by Henry Dumas coming out this fall.