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Beth Farrell, Bookseller at Blackwell's Broad Street

Beth speaks to The Publishing Profile about touring with Rachel Clarke and her most anticipated reads of 2020

Hiya, my name is Beth and I’m a bookseller at Blackwell’s Broad Street. I got my first bookshop job when I was 18 and I absolutely adored it. Since then, I have worked in a variety of different bookselling roles, from senior bookseller to marketing assistant. I found Blackwell’s when I moved to Oxford at 21 and I’ve now been with them for almost 4 years!

Has your role in publishing widened your reading taste, and how has it changed your attitude to different genres of books?

Working in a large bookshop and a variety of departments, I have been exposed to consistently new and interesting books. I’m incredibly lucky to work with people who have excellent taste in literature, and their recommendations never fail. Through chats with customers, I’ve also been recommended some books which I have loved! I think that discussing and sharing books that we love is one of the reasons why I love the book industry so much!

What reading formats do you prefer? Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks, library books, or a mixture?

I thoroughly prefer hard copies of books, so I do prefer paperbacks in that they’re easy to transport, but you can’t really beat a good hardback of a wonderful book! I’m a big fan of a french flap and some deckled edges on a paperback! Growing up, I was all about library books, I loved browsing the shelves to find something to bring home with me for a week!

Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?

One of the highlights of my career so far has definitely been touring with and promoting Rachel Clarke, author of Dear Life, across Blackwell’s shops at the start of the year. She is an immensely compassionate doctor and a wonderful author, and I am extremely pleased that I got to interview and work with Rachel.

What is your most-read genre?

In terms of what I read, I would say that I am particularly drawn to literary fiction in general, but I am a big fan of short story collections by womxn or anything with an ounce of magical realism by the sea!

Where do you buy or access your books?

I am a die-hard bookshop fan. Some of my favourites include Mr B’s in Bath, Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh and, it obviously goes without saying, Blackwell’s on Broad Street in Oxford. I prefer to shop indie, and I am a big fan of second-hand bookshops.

What childhood books have you kept on your shelves?

All of my favourite books from when I was a kid I have kept on my shelves! Garth Nix, Celia Rees, Philip Pullman, they’re all still there on my bookshelves back at my parent’s house. Their sentimental value is substantial to me, and I’ve been ever so nervous about keeping books that mean so much to me here with me in Oxford after The Great Mouldening of 2017 when many books fell victim to my rented student house!

What is the oldest book on your shelf?

The oldest book that I have on my shelf at the moment is a small and beautiful hardback edition of Pride and Prejudice from the 1930s. The pages are wafer-thin and pristine. I was lucky enough to find it in a small charity shop in Edinburgh!

What’s the most beautiful book you own?

I think perhaps the most beautiful book that I currently own is a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Morning Glory on the Vine, a collection of handwritten lyrics and paintings which was released by Canongate last year! Reading it is an absolute treat.

Who is your most read author, and why?

She is without a doubt my favourite ever author, but if Zadie Smith brings out a book, I’ll read it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Zadie could write a book on the history of light switches and I can guarantee that it would be one of the greatest works of the 21st Century.

What surprises you about your shelves? Is there a book you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?

I’m often surprised by how messy my shelves are, for a start. Not only do I have a shameful book-buying problem but living in a tiny house with two other humans and a dog results in limited space, so I often resort to shameful floor stacks. I do try not to be biased about genres in terms of what I keep on my shelves, although if I don't enjoy the blurb, I won't read it. I think that can perhaps be quite limiting.

What are your favourite books of 2020 so far?

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of reading some shockingly good books so far in 2020. Sakaya Murata’s upcoming novel, Earthlings, shocked me to my core - this book is by no means an easy read, but it is entirely worth it. I also read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn for the first time this year and I know for certain that in the coming years, I will still list this as one of my all-time favourites!

What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of 2020?

I remember at the start of 2020 I was looking at upcoming releases for this year, and I was surprised by just how many quality books are due to be released. I am fiercely excited to get my hands on the new Eley Williams debut novel, The Liar’s Dictionary. I absolutely adored her short story collection, Attrib. which is a beautifully written exploration of communication. Daisy Johnson’s upcoming second novel, Sisters, is released this year, and I honestly cannot recommend this book enough. It’s thrilling and spooky yet so delicately written. Finally, there’s a poetry collection due to be released in July by Romalyn Ante. Being half Filipino myself, I’ve often struggled to find books that I can truly identify with, so I hold this upcoming collection dear to my heart.

What book should everyone read?

A book that I cannot recommend enough, is They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery. An incredibly moving, and thoroughly important account of the BLM movement, this is an absolutely necessary read for our time.

You can find Beth on Twitter and Instagram @isnotanotter


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