Let’s start with what you’re currently reading . . .
Natasha: I’m currently reading a proof copy of Fresh Water For Flowers by Valérie Perrin (in translation by Hildegarde Serle) and The First Bohemians by Vic Gatrell, which is essentially a history of ‘London’s Golden Age’ of art and debauchery. I like to have a fiction and a non-fiction title on the go and flit between the two depending on my mood. I’ve just placed an order for Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City for something a little more topical.
Imogen: Eat Mangoes Naked by Sark, which is a gorgeous graphic novel about finding pleasure and joy in difficult times.
What is something that would surprise people about you?
Imogen: I own thirteen pairs of dungarees!
Natasha: I used to be a bit of a rebel at school but also played the clarinet and had singing lessons (I got to grade 8 with the latter!).
What are your interests outside of the bookshop?
Imogen: I have a passion for history (in particular Ancient Greece) and love nothing more than a day spent at a museum.
Natasha: I’m pretty academic in that I’d like to continue my further studies at some point; looking at things like gender, representation and culture. I like film, art and music . . . and I’ll stop there before it starts to sound like a lonely hearts ad!
When did you become a bookseller?
Natasha: I started working at Booka in early December, having graduated from university last summer and subsequently moving back home.
Imogen: February this year! It hasn’t been long but I’ve enjoyed every minute.
What interested you about the job post?
Natasha: A lot of my university peers went straight into graduate schemes, which was something I was never interested in doing. I absolutely loved university and I wasn’t prepared to go into a role that wasn’t just as satisfying. When I saw the job advert for Booka, I applied immediately as I saw it as an opportunity to combine my interests with my full-time job. The dream, right?
Imogen: Booka has always seemed like a really calm and cheerful place to me and it really feels like a community hub in Oswestry. I was so excited to become part of the team! I love books and I couldn’t imagine anything better than working alongside likeminded people and with something that I am passionate about.
What have you enjoyed most about the job so far?
Imogen: I really love the community aspect of working in Booka; getting to share my love of reading with the people of Oswestry and our amazing team of booksellers. I’m definitely a people person. My favourite part of the day is sharing thoughts and ideas with my colleagues, talking about what we’ve all been reading and which books we’re looking forward to.
Natasha: Like Imogen, it would have to be working alongside like-minded people. Everybody made me feel so welcome and part of the team immediately, which also really helped. Another huge perk of the job is having access to certain titles way ahead of their publication date. That still feels very novel and super special.
Did anything about being a bookseller surprise you?
Imogen: Definitely the sheer volume of books that it has added to my “to be read” pile! Every day I find something new I want to take home with me!
Natasha: It wasn’t a surprise as such, but something that I admire and, at times, find somewhat intimidating is the book knowledge of my colleagues. Between them, they know absolutely everything there is to know about books and bookselling. Everybody has their specialisms and sometimes their wisdom just blows my mind.
What have you brought to the team at Booka that is different to your fellow booksellers?
Imogen: I have a real passion for LGBT+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction; especially queer history and I’m excited to bring that diversity to the team.
Natasha: I like to think I brought a certain shall we say je ne sais quoi to the team! A new pair of eyes is always bound to give a different outlook on things in and around the shop and its day-to-day functionings. It’s been really cool to be able to share ideas and have some of them implemented, however small they may seem.
Obviously you enjoy reading, have you always been an avid reader?
Natasha: I was actually much more of an avid reader when I was a child and teenager. I loved Michael Morpurgo as a child and then Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson when I was a little bit older. I used to really get through the school library offerings. I even read Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment alongside my A-Level English Literature curriculum titles (for fun!), which is probably not something you’d catch me reading now!
Imogen: I was brought up in a family that loves reading and books were a big part of my childhood. The only room in my family home that wasn’t stuffed with books was the bathroom! However, there was a time when I was a teenager where I was unwell for a few years and unable to manage reading full books. This birthed a passion for graphic novels, which I carry with me to this day. It showed me that there is more than one way to be a reader and more out there than your traditional paperback novel!
What were your younger reading days like?
Imogen: Throughout primary school, I always had a book on the go and regularly asked to stay inside over break-time so that I could sit in and read! When I was eleven, I shocked my teacher by devouring Pride and Prejudice in a matter of days.
Natasha: Again, I read much more when I was younger and got through books much quicker. It is much simpler when all the time can be reading-time and it isn’t something that has to be designated into hectic lives and ‘adulting’!
Was there a particular book that really changed you as a reader/your reading habits?
Natasha: I often attribute my love of reading as an adult to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, which is actually the only book I have read twice! I read it first at 17 and then again last year at 22 with drastically different thoughts about it. My degree has definitely influenced much of what I find interesting, especially on the non-fiction side of things. My dissertation led me to the work of Virginie Despentes (a radical French feminist) for example, something I may never have found outside of university!
Imogen: When I was sixteen, I read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of feminist non-fiction, which became a massive passion for me and even led me to choose a degree in politics and history.
What’s your favourite genre?
Imogen: When I’m in a bookshop, I always make a beeline for the history and politics sections and then after that head straight for poetry. You are much more likely to find me reading non-fiction that fiction.
Natasha: Generally, I read contemporary fiction. I like things that are a bit quirky; whether that be in their format of prose or what ideas they tackle. I like reading poetry too, there’s something about it as an art form that I really enjoy. It’s like deep-diving into a creative mind.
Would you ever write a book? If so, what would it be?
Natasha: The dream, for me, is to be a writer at some stage in the future; whatever form that may take. I’d love to write an award-winning novel and go on tour with my book. I think I’d like an accompanying tour bus and roadies, too.
Imogen: If I ever wrote a book, it would probably be something about the links between mental health and growing up gay.
What excites you about your future as a bookseller at Booka?
Natasha: Definitely meeting more and more publishing reps, guest authors and book publicists. It gives you a huge insight into, and much more well-rounded view of the industry. Meeting authors and getting to put a face to a book has been fun and being able to see what a great time an audience has at an event is really rewarding.
Imogen: I can’t wait to learn more about the bookselling world and the process from manuscript to the finished hardback sat on our shelves.