We love independent bookstores! From their deep and passionate advocacy for literacy, their innate ability to help you find the perfect book, their wonderfully book-ish bookstores, and quirky bookstore pets, independent bookstores are a wonderful addition to communities around the country.
In support of National Independent Bookstore Day on April 30, we turned to t
wo of The History Press’s very own editors – Christen Thompson and Julia Turner – who recently became booksellers. They are the founders of Itinerant Literate Books, a pop-up bookshop and custom book event designer with plans to expand into a bookmobile here in Charleston, South Carolina. Even though they are crazy busy editing books and getting ready to launch their 1958 Yellowstone trailer book mobile, they were kind enough to chat with us about their new adventures in bookselling.
What inspired you to start a book mobile?
It was actually a pretty organic process, so the word "inspired" maybe isn't as accurate as the term "slowly encouraged." Ever since we both ended up in Charleston, we've discussed how much we'd love to open the bookstore of our dreams and sort of built up this mythical job of "the bookseller" due in part, we're sure, to reading about all the amazing stuff booksellers are doing in Shelf Awareness
. But last fall, we started to discuss it more seriously and even had a few brainstorming sessions of how we could even begin--maybe just by showing up with books in the back of a truck at events or doing a fundraiser of some kind. That's sort of when things started to fall into place. First, we came to the conclusion that a storefront would be prohibitively expensive, so we thought our "back of a truck" idea maybe should be where we started--hence, the book mobile. Then, we found out that the ABA was having its annual Winter Institute in Asheville and found a good deal for membership, and it really was just too good an opportunity to pass up. So we went and presented our idea there and got a great reception from booksellers around the country. We also floated the idea by our parents (of course), and they have all been very encouraging. Both of us grew up in households where it was obvious that you shouldn't not try something just because you might fail and where if you aren't multitasking on at least 5 things at once you're not really living. So yes, then we came back to Charleston determined to make this idea work.
Charleston has such a wonderful arts, culture and food scene that seems perfect for a book mobile. How has the response from the local community been so far to your business?
People have been super receptive and curious. The most frustrating thing is that people have been so enthusiastic but we don't have the mobile unit yet, which shows people are ready for it but we're not ready for them quite yet. We're so close though!
How did you come up with the name Itinerant Literate Books?
We had been keeping a running list for a while (like 2 years), and then we tried to figure out which ones were taken. We realized we needed to pick something that would work for a mobile unit and a stationary storefront eventually. So we had a list of about twenty 20 punny names, and one meeting we just decided we had to choose one. So we both picked our top two (blind voting), and it turned out that Itinerant Literate was both of our number-one choices.
How do you think your experience in the publishing industry will influence you as booksellers?
Christen: As an acquisitions editor, I have to always think about the audience for a book, which lends itself directly to bookselling. Also, in addition to acquisitions, as an editor it is my primary job to make the project the best it can be. This usually means learning what an author's strengths and weaknesses are; learn what really excites them in the research and writing process to help translate that passion to paper. You are a guide and a midwife (to be oh so serious about it). As a bookseller, you are similarly a guide: you learn about your customer and use your knowledge and expertise to guide them to discover a new book and new experience that will compliment their interests or expand their viewpoint.
Julia: Part of being a good copy editor is reading a lot and very diversely, which is helpful for bookselling because you never know what people's interests will be. And you know, catching typos in store materials will come in handy, I'm sure.
What do you hope Itinerant Literate Books will be like 10 years from now?
First, this is an overwhelming question. We hopefully envision that it's a successful bookselling institution in Charleston with a storefront and the mobile unit that has a full event calendar with respected authors, local and national, as well as solid community partnerships.
What’s your Awesome Book Nerd Superpower?
Christen: bibliosynesthesia, or being able to describe a book in tone, plot, audience, etc., using unexpected references and contextual anecdotes. "This book is exactly what it feels like when you get in a really hot car but it's actually comfortable.
Julia: biblioempathy, or being able to remember when someone you spoke to mentioned one thing they'd really like to work on or read about and thinking of him/her when you find a book that is pertinent. Example: The photographer from the City Paper told us he had a daughter who was afraid of the dark. Two weeks later, I read about a children's book called Orion Versus the Dark, about a boy who overcomes his fear. Recommended it; he loved it and bought it.
For more information about Itinerant Literate, visit www.itinerantliteratebooks.com.