Meet the ABA Young Booksellers of the Year: Eadie Allen from the Sun Bookshop
In the lead-up to the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) 2019 conference, Books+Publishing spoke to each of the five shortlisted nominees for the Young Bookseller of the Year award ahead of the winner announcement on 23 June.
In this instalment, we talk to Eadie Allen, assistant manager at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville, in inner-western Melbourne. Allen started as a children’s bookseller at the Younger Sun, aged 14. Shop owner Deb Force explains: ‘When Kate Frawley went on maternity leave, we interviewed lots of people to take over her job and none stacked up. Then, thinking of all of the qualities we needed, we realised we already had a person with the brains, the ability to work hard, a great passion for books, a love of people in our stores—so we moved Eadie to the Sun Bookshop, where she had the new challenge of working with grown-ups. Eadie rose to the occasion, bringing her sparkling enthusiasm, and incredible social media abilities to the Sun Bookshop. Eadie still keeps a toe in the Younger Sun and runs the Middle Grade book club on one of her days off.’
What are the top three things you wish you’d known when you were starting out in the book industry?
Don’t invest too much time, effort, or money into the actual shelves you keep your books on unless you make sure to leave lots of extra space and room to expand. Your bookshelves will be overflowing within a week. That said, reorganising books will always be enjoyable.
You don’t have to read everything on the classics shelf to be a good bookseller or be considered well-read. While there are some truly wonderful books out there, it’s highly probable that not everything written by a man who lived centuries ago will appeal to you now. Pick things based on what you like or that seem interesting to you.
Get your eyes tested. Finding out that I’ve always needed glasses would have made a decade of scanning spines and invoices much easier, and when half the job involves reading there would have been a lot less eye strain!
What has been your biggest achievement or proudest moment as a bookseller?
My proudest moment would definitely be becoming a manager of the Sun and Younger Sun Bookshops. I’ve been a regular at both stores since they opened, and was the tiny child who brought in handwritten reviews and attended book clubs before graduating to wrapping books at Christmas and finally working in-store in my last year of high school. To now be a part of the running of the stores, organising events, and creating new things at a place where I’ve grown up means so much to me.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned on the job?
Learning how to find the perfect book for someone who doesn’t really know what they want. From a prolific reader who can’t decide where to turn next, to a child who is determined to hate reading, there’s always a way to ask questions (even unrelated to reading) to find a solution; and nothing is more satisfying than matching the perfect book to a reader.
What do you think this industry could do better?
I think that both the bookselling and publishing industries need to continue to celebrate and encourage diversity. While we’ve definitely been making steps in this direction, there’s still a long way to go, and both industries are in a position to directly promote the voices of marginalised communities. On the publishing side this means encouraging and printing new voices, while for booksellers this involves supporting smaller publishers and choosing to stock titles by a greater range of authors. We know the power of handselling, and as a bookseller you’re in a position to make a connection between a customer and an author they may never otherwise have discovered. For anyone who hasn’t tried recommending only Indigenous voices to someone who asks about ‘the first explorers of Australia’, it’s well worth it to at least raise an interesting discussion and make the customer interrogate exactly what they’re looking for and why.
Where would you like to be in five (or 10, or 20) years’ time? And what do you hope the industry will look like then?
As someone who (outside of work) doesn’t like to plan more than a week in advance, I don’t have an answer to this question. I can say that my goal is to one day have a library room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a ladder that slides along the shelves, so hopefully I’ll be on my way to achieving that. In terms of the industry, I hope that independent bookstores are flourishing.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while at work?
My strangest experience is totally unrelated to bookselling but remains the Sun Bookshop’s greatest mystery. I was working in the Sun when I received a call from the children’s store asking if I knew anything about ‘the shrimp in the back room’. Further investigation revealed it was in fact a yabbie, and recently deceased. To this day we have no idea where it came from, how it arrived there, or who let the shrimp in.
The 95th ABA conference runs from 23–24 June at Pullman Melbourne on the Park.
To read all the interviews with the ABA Young Bookseller of the Year nominees, click here. To stay up-to-date with Australian book industry news and hear about the ABA Booksellers of the Year winners, sign up to our Daily Newsletter and Weekly Book Newsletter.