January 23, 2013

Talking shop with an indie bookseller


Aaron Neber

This is an occasional series that asks some of our favorite independent booksellers a handful of 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 indie insight — this week, it comes compliments of Aaron Neber, from Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ.

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

Changing Hands has been around since April 1, 1974. It started in a small space in downtown Tempe, moved and expanded a couple times in that neighborhood, and then about twelve years ago moved to our current location in south Tempe. There are some really great stories about customers forming relay teams to move inventory from one location to another during the downtown moves, and some even staged a more symbolic relay when the big move took place, so we’ve definitely got a really devoted, passionate community behind us.

Everyone at the store seems to have at least a dozen roles they fill. Some of mine are assistant manager, event host, used book buyer, digital marketing assistant, and overseeing the Staff Picks program.

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 got into bookselling for the promise of riches and fine jewels. That combined with a general obsession with literature. Now that I’ve been doing it for a number of years, I think my reasons have evolved a bit — which leads me to part two of your question.

Talking about what keeps you dejected is too easy (shops closing, trying to explain to friends and family why I take personal offense to their Amazon purchases, uncertainty about digital media/rights, etcetcetc). What inspires me most are the interactions I get to have with customers, colleagues, and total strangers over good books. I’ve met some of my favorite people because of my involvement with books, and when I visit bookstores in other cities I feel like I’m taking part in this big, constantly evolving dialog that I wouldn’t have access to were it not for reading.

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

This is a tough one. Right now I’m wishing for some 11″x17″ paper because our lack is thwarting a project I’m working on, but I feel like that’d be squandering Ms. Beach’s powers … Maybe if she could conjure some kind of resurgence of interest in academic literary theory. Whenever I’m in New York and go to St. Mark’s Bookstore I get insanely jealous that they can have Critical Theory lining the main aisle, but that’s something that can exist a bit easier in Manhattan than Tempe. I try to keep our literary theory section current and exciting, so tell all the nerds we’re here, Sylvia!

So either that, or I’d wish for her to be my personal spirit animal — can you imagine the adventures she’d lead you to?! I’m imagining a lot of trips to graveyards for some reason.

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

To name just one book that I’m excited about is almost impossible, so I’m going to pick one of each. I’m excited to get started on Daniel Levin Becker’s translation of Georges Perec’s La Boutique Obscure. I’m thrilled about how many books on/about/by OuLiPo members have been published in the past few years, and a chance to read the mastermind’s dream journal seems like an opportunity not to be missed. As for non-Melville related books, Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Satantango was one of my favorites of last year, and I’m really looking forward to Seibo There Below, which seems like a total departure from his past works in translation …

(Also, Anne Caron’s Red Doc> because, I mean, c’mon.)