Meet the bookseller with Lou Ryan
In this month’s Meet the Bookseller column we chat with Lou Ryan, our fabulous Carlton shop manager! We talk about how a conversation with a friendly bookseller began her life-long career in publishing, how a 1980s bookstore compares to those of 2021, and what she’s been reading lately.
Why did you decide to work in books?
I was a directionless and underemployed 24-year-old who loved reading. I visited The Paperback bookshop in Melbourne and cross-examined bookseller Sally Madsen (whose next job was at Readings Carlton!) on jobs in the book trade. I was interested in the publishing side. She suggested becoming a sales rep, which I did. I cannot believe I was even interviewed for the role, given my lack of experience, but they loved the fact that I had recently held a ticketed party at the Melbourne City Baths with over 500 guests. (The Baths' first and last party….) They decided I could sell anything.
What is your favourite part of your job?
It’s a triangle - Colleagues, Customers, Books.
What is the weirdest thing to happen to you in a bookshop?
Recently, I was shelving books and a customer whacked me across the back. She was with a group of friends and they saw I had a huge huntsman spider crawling on me. They conferred and decided the best approach was to deal with it rather than tell me. I love customers.
What is something new you’ve observed in bookselling over the years?
Computers and a lack of ashtrays; in the 80s we had ashtrays along the counter so we could share a ciggie with a customer and chat about books. We also had no computers, just a box of index cards with a handwritten title and ISBN on it. We did stock checks using physical catalogues rather than running reports!
Tell us about an Australian book that made a significant impact on you.
I loved A Fraction of the Whole - to the level where I have a few international editions and some proof copies as well. It was such a wild, exciting voice and a rollicking rollercoaster read. It is fun and clever and it made me laugh hard. And it’s Australian.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately and why?
I just read Echolalia by Briohny Doyle, which will be released early June. It’s a wonderful and terrifying novel of a family with stretched relationships, it seems to subtly question the way we live now and our impact on the planet. It feels like a gentle yet frightening warning. Briohny Doyle is a beautiful storyteller and this is her first novel.
I also just read and loved We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson, publishing in July.
What books are sitting on your bedside table right now?
Miles Allinson’s (Readings staff member) new book In Moonland. Halfway through and loving it.
Let Me Tell You What I Mean - Joan Didion
The Other Black Girl - Zakiya Dalila Harris
Once There Were Wolves - Charlotte McConaghy
Dropbear - Evelyn Araluen
Plus heaps more, but those five are at the top!